“High-profile cyber-attacks and investigations into data breaches have brought more attention to the importance of data technology, from individuals’ daily lives up to the highest levels of government,” Shannon T. O’Connor, an associate in Goldberg Segalla’s Municipal and Governmental Liability Practice Group, wrote in American City & County. For governments, though, the risks don’t stop at data loss and disrupted services — beyond the initial breach and response lies the potentially greater risk of liability.
Investment in data protection, Shannon explains, will always be insufficient if that investment isn’t backed by policymakers’ and executives’ understanding of their responsibilities in the event of a breach, including internal policies and protocols as well as state and federal statutes.
“A breach should trigger an internal response,” Shannon writes, “involving the team tasked with identifying, containing, fixing, and complying with the external requirements.” Currently 47 states have established statutes specifying county and city governments’ post-breach obligations. She goes on to explain the main topics each of these statutes covers, and elaborates on general guidelines for city and county governments looking to formalize data breach response plans and grasp liability risks.
“The response by a government following a data breach can assist in restoring credibility in the eyes of the public,” Shannon explains. “Prioritizing cybersecurity demonstrates that a city or county understands the current threat, takes its obligations to protect the public seriously, and is engaged with 21st century issues and standards of municipal service.”
A rising thought-leader on data breaches and cyber liability for governments and municipal organizations as well as on police policies and assessment of excessive force, Shannon was formerly Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Syracuse. Now a Local Government Fellow and New York State Co-Chair of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, Shannon focuses her practice on municipal and governmental liability, general liability, and matters involving employment and labor.
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