Bill Amends Existing Law to Expand Consumer Rights and Enhance Cybersecurity

On June 17, 2019, the New York Legislature approved a substantial revision of New York state’s data security and breach notification requirements under the Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security (SHIELD) Act. The bill now awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature and, if signed, will substantially impact efforts by public and private organizations to contend with breach incidents and comply with data security requirements across industries. 

The SHIELD Act (the “Act”) would apply to any person or entity that processes the personal information of a New York state resident, even if such person or entity is located outside of the state. Given the size, population, and extensive business and financial influence of New York state, the Act will have national impact. With the Act, New York joins a growing list of activist states that are enacting new laws to address privacy and cybersecurity concerns.

Data Breach Implications

The Act would amend New York’s data breach law (GBL §899-AA and §899-bb) in several key areas. Specifically, the Act broadens the definition of “private information” to include biometric data, account numbers, username/email address with password or security question and answer, and unsecured “protected health information” under HIPAA. The SHIELD Act expands the definition of “data breach” to include unauthorized access to private information instead of the current standard of unauthorized acquisition. Additionally, as referenced above, the Act applies outside of its geographic boundaries. Taken together, these amendments raise the bar for companies that experience data breaches involving New York state residents by expanding their notification obligations.

There’s also some good news for business. The Act provides that inadvertent disclosures by individuals authorized to access the private information do not trigger notification requirements if the exposure will not likely result in misuse or in financial or emotional harm to the affected individuals. This “harm threshold” may operate to exempt very minor breaches from the Act.


The Act notably applies a reasonableness standard for evaluating data security standards, and carves out as de facto reasonable those entities that can demonstrate compliance with selected federal and state data security frameworks, including GLBA and HIPAA as well as other New York state data security regulations, such as the Department of Financial Services Cybersecurity Regulation. If, for example, a company meets the notification requirements of those frameworks, no further notification would be required under the Act, with the caveat that entities would still have to provide notice to New York authorities. As approved by the Legislature, the Act includes an interesting placeholder for future federal and New York state data security regulations, likely in anticipation of ongoing legislation at all levels. In a nod to small business, the Act defines “reasonable” data security in light of the size of the covered entity, and provides a suggested but not mandated road map for implementing safeguards.


The Act does not contain a private right of action, but does permit enforcement by the state Attorney General.

If signed, the Act would go into effect in two stages, with the new notification requirements (§ 899-aa) becoming effective 90 days after signature by the governor, and the “reasonableness” standard for data security (§ 899-bb) effective after 240 days. The bill must be signed before the end of the calendar year.

Steps to Take Now

  • Ensure that you’ve covered the basics: Know what data you collect and process, all data sources, location of the data, what you do with the data and why, and any disclosures of data made to third parties.
  • Update your Data Breach Plan to reflect the significant departures from current New York law implemented under the Act, including the expanded definition of personal/private information and making unauthorized access to such information a data breach with all its attendant obligations.
  • Review your Cybersecurity Program, and make any necessary modifications to ensure that you meet the reasonableness standard, taking into account the size of your business and other factors set forth in the Act.

*During her tenure as Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Internet & Technology for the New York State Attorney General's Office, Kathleen A. McGee was the primary drafter of the SHIELD Act.