Recently proposed legislation in Ohio could provide businesses with special protection from lawsuits in the event of a hack under certain circumstances. Senate Bill 220 would shelter businesses that have been proactive in instituting defenses to guard against data breaches. The idea is to encourage firms to voluntarily enact privacy protections by promising them the ability to later claim an affirmative defense in court should a hack still occur.

Other states already require businesses to meet specific standards with regard to providing cyber security protections and preventing data breaches. In New York, businesses licensed by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) must meet compliance standards in accordance with DFS cybersecurity regulations. These standards require licensees to have a written cybersecurity program in place, maintain a cybersecurity policy that covers 14 regulation-specific areas, designate a qualified employee as a Chief Information Security Officer, and implement an incident response plan, among additional imperatives. Similarly, states differ with regard to their requirements of businesses in providing data breach notices. For example, in Massachusetts, notices must be provided to the affected resident, the Attorney General’s office, and to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR).

Ohio’s Senate Bill 220 is interesting in that it does not lay out a minimum set of standards that, if not met, could serve as grounds for litigation in the event of a breach. Businesses will be tasked with instituting their own cybersecurity programs using one of eight industry-specific frameworks developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The legislation provides for an evolving standard, which means lawmakers won’t have to continually revisit the issue to update a minimum set of standards. Whether or not a business qualifies for the safe harbor provision will be up to a judge to determine if such business has met its burden. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that this new legislation will provide for compliance as an affirmative defense for businesses facing a lawsuit as a result of a data breach.

The Mintz Levin team will continue to monitor this pending legislation and update our readers as it develops.