June 26, 2022

Volume XII, Number 177

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June 24, 2022

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Comparing and Contrasting the State Laws: Does Pseudonymized Data Exempt Organizations from Complying with Privacy Rights?

Some organizations are confused as to the impact that pseudonymization has (or does not have) on a privacy compliance program. That confusion largely stems from ambiguity concerning how the term fits into the larger scheme of modern data privacy statutes. For example, aside from the definition, the CCPA only refers to “pseudonymized” on one occasion – within the definition of “research” the CCPA implies that personal information collected by a business should be “pseudonymized and deidentified” or “deidentified and in the aggregate.”[1] The conjunctive reference to research being both pseudonymized “and” deidentified raises the question whether the CCPA lends any independent meaning to the term “pseudonymized.” Specifically, the CCPA assigns a higher threshold of anonymization to the term “deidentified.” As a result, if data is already deidentified it is not clear what additional processing or set of operations is expected to pseudonymize the data. The net result is that while the CCPA introduced the term “pseudonymization” into the American legal lexicon, it did not give it any significant legal effect or status.

Unlike the CCPA, the pseudonymization of data does impact compliance obligations under the data privacy statutes of Virginia, Colorado, and Utah. As the chart below indicates, those statutes do not require that organizations apply access or deletion rights to pseudonymized data, but do imply that other rights (e.g., opt out of sale) do apply to such data. Ambiguity remains as to what impact pseudonymized data has on rights that are not exempted, such as the right to opt out of the sale of personal information. For example, while Virginia does not require an organization to re-identify pseudonymized data, it is unclear how an organization could opt a consumer out of having their pseudonymized data sold without reidentification.


ENDNOTES

[1] Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.140(ab)(2) (West 2021). It should be noted that the reference to pseudonymizing and deidentifying personal information is found within the definition of the word “Research,” as such it is unclear whether the CCPA was attempting to indicate that personal information will not be considered research unless it has been pseudonymized and deidentified, or whether the CCPA is mandating that companies that conduct research must pseudonymize and deidentify. Given that the reference is found within the definition section of the CCPA, the former interpretation seems the most likely intent of the legislature.

[2] The GDPR does not expressly define the term “sale,” nor does it ascribe particular obligations to companies that sell personal information. Selling, however, is implicitly governed by the GDPR as any transfer of personal information from one controller to a second controller would be considered a processing activity for which a lawful purpose would be required pursuant to GDPR Article 6.

[3] Va. Code 59.1-577(B) (2022).

[4] Utah Code Ann. 13-61-303(1)(a) (2022).

[5] Va. Code 59.1-577(D) (2022) (exempting compliance with Va. Code 59.1-573(A)(1) through (4)

[6] C.R.S. 6-1-1307(3) (2022) (exempting compliance with C.R.S. Section 6-1-1306(1)(b) to (1)(e)).

[7] Utah Code Ann. 13-61-303(1)(c) (exempting compliance with Utah Code Ann. 13-61-202(1) through (3)).

[8] Va. Code 59.1-577(D) (2022) (exempting compliance with Va. Code 59.1-573(A)(1) through (4)

[9] C.R.S. 6-1-1307(3) (2022) (exempting compliance with C.R.S. Section 6-1-1306(1)(b) to (1)(e)).

[10] Va. Code 59.1-577(D) (2022) (exempting compliance with Va. Code 59.1-573(A)(1) through (4)

[11] C.R.S. 6-1-1307(3) (2022) (exempting compliance with C.R.S. Section 6-1-1306(1)(b) to (1)(e)).

[12] Utah Code Ann. 13-61-303(1)(c) (exempting compliance with Utah Code Ann. 13-61-202(1) through (3)).

[13] Va. Code 59.1-577(D) (2022) (exempting compliance with Va. Code 59.1-574).

[14] Va. Code 59.1-577(D) (2022) (exempting compliance with Va. Code 59.1-574).

©2022 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 136
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About this Author

David A. Zetoony Privacy Attorney Greenberg Traurig
Shareholder

David Zetoony, Co-Chair of the firm's U.S. Data, Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice, focuses on helping businesses navigate data privacy and cyber security laws from a practical standpoint. David has helped hundreds of companies establish and maintain ongoing privacy and security programs, and he has defended corporate privacy and security practices in investigations initiated by the Federal Trade Commission, and other data privacy and security regulatory agencies around the world, as well as in class action litigation. 

David receives regular recognitions from clients and peers for...

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