At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week, a security researcher presented his research on using access rights available under the GDPR for identity theft purposes (slides available here; whitepaper available here).  Specifically, the researcher “attempted to steal as much information as possible” about his fiancé by submitting GDPR access requests in her name to more than 150 companies based in the U.S. and UK.  The researcher reported that 24 percent of the companies surveyed ultimately provided personal information in response to the bogus requests.

While the researcher’s study focused on the GDPR, the results are indicative of concerns applicable more broadly to other privacy laws that grant access rights to individuals, including the forthcoming California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) in California.  This could be particularly problematic in a CCPA context given that the statute defines personal information to include information associated with a consumer’s “household.”

The whitepaper associated with the researcher’s study suggests a number of potential steps that various stakeholders could take to remediate the risk of unauthorized disclosure of personal information in response to access requests.  For instance, the whitepaper suggests that legislators and regulators could reduce these risks by “assuring businesses that rejecting a suspicious right of access request in good faith will not later result in prosecution if it turns out that the request originated from a legitimate but suspiciously-behaving data subject.”