In technology contracts between customers and vendors, it is common to obligate one or both parties to implement “reasonable security measures” to protect applicable data and information. Typically, the obligation is a function of risk allocation or legal requirements. The recently enacted (and more recently amended) California Consumer Privacy Act’s authorization of a private right of action against businesses that fail to implement reasonable security procedures and practices highlights the issue. But, what are “reasonable security measures?” And, which contracting party decides?
The Market Speaks
Often, technology contracts merely reference, but do not explain, reasonable security measures. A contract may require a party simply to “implement reasonable security measures” to safeguard applicable information. Alternatively, a contract may obligate the party to “implement reasonable security measures as required by applicable law” or to “comply with applicable data privacy and security laws, including those regarding security measures.” Both customers and vendors can find these examples appealing.
Pushing the Envelope
Less often, but frequently when the technology transaction involves financial services companies, the contract may impose more stringent requirements based on statute or regulation. For example, the vendor may be obligated to “implement administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to insure the security and confidentiality of customer records and information, to protect against any anticipated threats or hazards to the security or integrity of such records, and to protect against unauthorized access to or use of such records or information which could result in substantial harm or inconvenience to any customer.”
Similarly, technology contracts involving healthcare information can mirror applicable federal regulations and obligate a party to “implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards that reasonably and appropriately protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the information.” For EU personal data, the Standard Contract Clauses (which will likely soon change) may be invoked.
Although usually advocated by technology customers, because these more specifically stated obligations track legal requirements, they are often acceptable to the customers’ vendors.
Breaking the Envelope
In a few cases, customers or vendors may choose to sidestep the vagueness of the above options. For example, agreements with ties to California may explicitly reference the 2016 California Data Breach Report, which specifically states that an organization’s failure to implement all twenty controls in the Center for Internet Security’s Critical Security Controls constitutes a lack of reasonable security. When payment card information is in scope, the contracting vendor may be directed to comply with the PCI Data Security Standards.
Increasingly more common, a technology customer – or vendor – may expressly set out detailed, bespoke security measures. The contractual statement of these measures can range from one, to three, to five or more pages.
Clearly, there are many ways for contracting parties to reach agreement on applicable security measures to be implemented under a technology contract. Be sure that what you sign up for works best for your company – all costs, risks, and consequences considered.
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