What is a Data Breach?

A data breach is the unauthorized acquisition or use of sensitive personal information that creates a substantial risk of identity theft or fraud.

Data breaches can be the result of criminal cyber-activity, such as hacking or ransomware, or because of employee error, such as emailing information to the wrong person.

What is personal information?

The law defines personal information as a resident's first name and last name or first initial and last name in combination with any 1 or more of the following data elements that relate to such resident:

    • (a) Social Security number;
    • (b) driver's license number or state-issued identification card number; or
    • (c) financial account number, or credit or debit card number, with or without any required security code, access code, personal identification number or password, that would permit access to a resident's financial account.

Personal information does not include information that can be legally obtained from publicly available sources, such as addresses or birthdays.  

Within a reasonable amount of time after either the discovery of a breach or knowledge that personal information was obtained, the business or entity that was breached must notify the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the Attorney General’s Office of the breach.

The notifications to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and to the Attorney General must include:

  • A detailed description of the nature and circumstances of the breach of security or unauthorized acquisition or use of personal information;
  • The number of Massachusetts residents affected as of the time of notification;
  • The steps already taken relative to the incident;
  • Any steps intended to be taken relative to the incident subsequent to notification; and
  • Information regarding whether law enforcement is engaged investigating the incident.

It is important to understand that some breaches are a result of a breach from a third-party vendor or other entity. For example: In addition to the regular reporting requirements, the law also requires financial institutions to report when a debit or credit card they issue is compromised. This means a breach may have occurred at a retailer but if the consumer used their bank issued card, the financial institution reports the breach as well.