Regulatory components to cyber insurance policies are becoming increasingly valuable as data-breach enforcement continues to surge. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission), the nation’s primary privacy and data security enforcer, has announced another record year of enforcement actions regarding consumer privacy. In 2017, the FTC brought nearly two hundred privacy and data security cases. Generally, getting hacked alone will not invite a lawsuit from the FTC, but failing to take corrective actions (resulting in a subsequent breach) could attract attention from regulators. To ensure enforcement, the Commission requires companies to take affirmative steps to remediate unlawful behavior. In addition, the FTC may impose civil, monetary penalties.
Recent FTC Enforcement Activities
Many well-known companies were targets of FTC investigations or enforcement actions in 2017, including Equifax, Lenovo, and VIZIO. Just last month, the FTC announced a settlement with electronic toymaker VTech, stemming from a data breach in 2015. VTech agreed to pay $650,000 to settle allegations that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which generally requires websites and apps to obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13 years of age. The FTC alleged that VTech had collected personal information from children without providing the requisite notice or obtaining the parent’s consent. The Commission also claimed that VTech had failed to take reasonable steps to secure the data it had collected.
Coverage for Fines and Penalties
As the FTC continues to increase enforcement actions, regulatory components to cyber-insurance policies are becoming increasingly valuable. Cyber regulatory defense and penalties coverage is one of the rare types of insurance that may affirmatively cover fines and penalties. For example, the AIG CyberEdge Security and Privacy Liability Insurance defines covered “Loss,” in part, as “civil fines or penalties imposed by a governmental agency and arising from a Regulatory Action, unless the civil fine or penalty is uninsurable under the law of the jurisdiction imposing such fine or penalty.” Other cyber policies provide coverage for “Penalties,” meaning “any civil fine or money penalty payable to a governmental entity that was imposed in a Regulatory Proceeding by the Federal Trade Commission . . . or any other federal, state, local or foreign governmental entity.” Like the AIG definition, these policies also caution that applicable state law may not allow for coverage, stating “the insurability of Penalties shall be in accordance with the law in the applicable venue that most favors coverage for such Penalties.” As with the insurability of punitive damages, there is no uniform view regarding whether fines and penalties can be insured, despite policy language expressly providing for such coverage. Insurers are likely to challenge coverage for fines and penalties that stem from intentional or willful conduct, claiming that loss is uninsurable based on public policy arguments.
Coverage for Defense and Investigative Costs
Cyber policies can also provide coverage for defense and investigative costs in connection with governmental investigations. Typically, the insurer will agree to pay attorneys’ fees, as well as other legal costs, excluding the insured’s internal costs, such as salary or overhead. Commonly, the insurer agrees to pay “Claims Expenses and Penalties in excess of the Retention, which the Insured shall become legally obligated to pay because of any Claim in the form of a Regulatory Proceeding.” Notably, FTC actions and investigations are included in traditional definitions of “Regulatory Proceeding.” Defense and investigation costs can add up quickly, making this portion of cyber coverage quite valuable.
Insurance for regulatory actions stemming from data breaches is readily available in the marketplace. While it remains unclear whether fines and penalties are insurable, as a matter of public policy, insurers are consistently providing coverage for defense and investigative costs in connection with cyber events. As the FTC continues to investigate data security and privacy issues, companies should continue to evaluate cyber-regulatory coverage as it can be a valuable part of business insurance portfolios.