At a recent forum in New York, a team of Covington lawyers addressed the growing concern among companies that their most valuable assets could leave the building on a thumb drive in an employee’s pocket or be disclosed through an employee’s use of a social media site.  Addressing this threat involves many disciplines beyond trade secret law, including employment, employee benefits and executive compensation, white collar crime, corporate and securities, insurance coverage, and crisis management.  This post identifies five proactive ways in which companies can use comprehensive privacy programs and robust data security measures to help prevent and respond to an insider’s intentional or inadvertent disclosure of confidential company information.

  1. Internal Privacy and Data Security Principles:  By specifying how the company collects, uses, discloses, and protects personal data of its customers and employees, internal privacy and data security policies can help companies identify who needs access to confidential data, how this data should be secured, and procedures for effectively deleting or destroying data once it is no longer needed by the company. 
  2. Internet Access and Use Policies:  Many companies implemented employee policies in the 90s governing how employees may access and use the Internet and the company’s computer networks.  However, these policies should be updated as new technologies that may increase the disclosure of confidential company information, such as peer-to-peer programs and third-party mobile applications, emerge.   
  3. Social Media Policies:  Social media policies typically govern how employees may use social media for work purposes, and, in some cases, set forth guidelines for employee use of personal social media accounts as well.  While these policies help to remind employees that they should be cautious when using social media to avoid the disclosure of confidential or proprietary company information, employers need to ensure that these policies are consistent with federal labor laws and state laws restricting an employer’s ability to request access to an employee’s personal online accounts.
  4. Robust Protections in Service Provider Agreements:  Confidentiality clauses and nondisclosure agreements with service providers are common and important.  But robust privacy and data security provisions can provide additional protection and mitigate the risk of a breach, especially where the service provider will handle your customer’s personal information.   
  5. Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) Policies:  Employers increasingly are allowing employees to use their personal smartphones, tablets, and other devices to access work e-mail accounts and the employer’s computer network.  While both employers and employees can benefit from this approach, companies need to make sure that their bring-your-own-device policies provide employees adequate notice and allow employers to implement appropriate data security measures, such as remote wiping tools.
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Photo of Lindsey Tonsager Lindsey Tonsager

Lindsey Tonsager helps national and multinational clients in a broad range of industries anticipate and effectively evaluate legal and reputational risks under federal and state data privacy and communications laws.

In addition to assisting clients engage strategically with the Federal Trade Commission, the…

Lindsey Tonsager helps national and multinational clients in a broad range of industries anticipate and effectively evaluate legal and reputational risks under federal and state data privacy and communications laws.

In addition to assisting clients engage strategically with the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Congress, and other federal and state regulators on a proactive basis, she has experience helping clients respond to informal investigations and enforcement actions, including by self-regulatory bodies such as the Digital Advertising Alliance and Children’s Advertising Review Unit.

Ms. Tonsager’s practice focuses on helping clients launch new products and services that implicate the laws governing the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising and social media, the collection of personal information from children and students online, behavioral advertising, e-mail marketing, artificial intelligence the processing of “big data” in the Internet of Things, spectrum policy, online accessibility, compulsory copyright licensing, telecommunications and new technologies.

Ms. Tonsager also conducts privacy and data security diligence in complex corporate transactions and negotiates agreements with third-party service providers to ensure that robust protections are in place to avoid unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of customer data and other types of confidential information. She regularly assists clients in developing clear privacy disclosures and policies―including website and mobile app disclosures, terms of use, and internal social media and privacy-by-design programs.