Today, Law360 published our article “Considering Best Data Practices for ERISA Fiduciaries.” (Download the full article in PDF format.)
In this article, we outline steps that ERISA plan fiduciaries can take to develop a policy concerning protection of plan data and prudent selection and monitoring of plan service providers who handle PII. Benefit plan service providers, including technology-based outsourcing companies, should also consider these important guidelines and implement the appropriate safeguards to protect against infringement of plan and participant data. These issues must be addressed in service arrangements and will continue to evolve.
Following is an excerpt:
Employee benefit plan fiduciaries are charged with meeting a prudence standard when discharging their duties solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. With increasing regulation of benefit plans, these duties and associated responsibilities are mounting. With advancements in technology, online enrollment and access to account information, as well as benefit plan transaction processing, participant identifiable information and data have become increasingly more vulnerable to attack as it travels through employer and third-party systems.
Earlier this year, the attack on Anthem Inc.'s information technology system, which compromised the personal information of individuals under numerous health plans (including personally identifiable information, bank account and income data, and Social Security numbers), raised questions of privacy and security under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, and there have been other similar attacks.
These cases remind us that in today’s world, plan participant information, whether it be protected health information, personally identifiable information or retirement savings account information, is vulnerable to theft. Employee Retirement Income Security Act plan fiduciaries must not only act prudently in responding to a breach of their plan participants’ PHI, but should also consider developing prudent policies and procedures with respect to the handling and transmission of all PII and participant data in the regular course.
In 2011, the Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans studied the importance of addressing privacy and security issues with respect to employee benefit plan administration. The council examined issues and concerns about potential breaches of the technological systems used in the employee benefit industry, the misuse of benefit data and PII and the impact on all parties, including plan sponsors, service providers, participants and beneficiaries. The council recognized several potential causes of breaches relating to benefit plan information, including hacking into retirement plan financial data, and recommended that the U.S. Department of Labor provide guidance on the obligation of plan fiduciaries to secure PII and develop educational materials. To date, the the Department of Labor has issued no such guidance.