Data Breach Notification Laws: What Businesses Need to Know in 2021

When was the last time you checked your email, social media accounts, or bank statements? As we become increasingly reliant on technology, we store more and more of our personal information online, making us more vulnerable to cybercrime. It is no surprise that cybercrime is one of the most significant threats to consumers and businesses worldwide. As a result, countries around the world have introduced data breach notification laws. In this article, we will explore what data breach notification laws are, their purpose, why they are necessary, and how they work in practice.

What is a data breach notification law?

A data breach notification law is a legal requirement that mandates organizations to notify individuals whose personal information has been compromised in a data breach. The law obligates organizations to inform individuals affected by the breach, as well as the relevant authority, about the breach promptly. The purpose of data breach notification laws is to protect individuals' privacy and personal data and prevent identity theft, fraud, and other related cybercrimes.

Why are data breach notification laws necessary?

As mentioned previously, the rise in cybercrime means that our personal information and data are more vulnerable now than ever before. A data breach is a security incident that results in the exposure or theft of confidential or sensitive information. Cybercriminals can use this information to perpetrate identity theft or fraud. This can result in financial loss, damaged reputation, and loss of trust with the affected individuals and the public.

Without data breach notification laws, organizations could potentially delay disclosing a data breach or avoid notifying the affected individuals to avoid negative publicity or financial repercussions. This can leave individuals unaware that their personal information has been compromised, and they are at risk of identity theft or fraud. Data breach notification laws ensure that organizations must inform individuals affected by the breach, fostering transparency and accountability.

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How do data breach notification laws work in practice?

The specifics of data breach notification laws differ between countries and jurisdictions. However, there are a few fundamental principles that are common across most laws:

1. Definition of personal data:
Data breach notification laws usually define personal data as any information that can identify an individual. This information can range from the individual's name, address, phone number, email address, social security number, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information.

2. Notification requirements:
The notification requirements typically include notifying individuals affected by the breach, as well as relevant authorities, such as regulatory or supervisory bodies. The notification should be given within a specified timeframe, usually 72 hours or less, once the organization learns of the breach. The notification should provide individuals with clear and concise information about the breach, including the type of personal data compromised, the likely consequences, and how they can protect themselves.

3. Penalties:
Data breach notification laws usually include penalties or fines for non-compliance. The severity of the penalties can vary and can be influenced by the type of data, the number of individuals affected, the organization's size, and whether the organization caused the breach. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe can impose a fine of up to 4% of a company's global revenue or €20 million, whichever is higher.

Real-life examples of data breaches and notification laws

In 2017, one of the most significant data breaches in history occurred at Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the United States. The breach compromised the personal information of over 145 million individuals, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, and driver's license numbers. Equifax discovered the breach on July 29 but did not disclose the breach until September 7, delaying notification to affected individuals. This sparked outrage from lawmakers, regulators, and individuals affected by the breach.

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Recently, in Australia, the country's largest investment platform, Australian Securities Exchange (ASX)-listed Link Group, suffered a data breach involving the personal information of millions of customers. The company was quick to notify the affected customers and regulatory authorities, demonstrating compliance with data breach notification laws. By promptly notifying affected customers, Link Group aimed to foster transparency and maintain its customers' trust while minimizing the risk of identity theft or fraud.


As technology advances and we become more reliant on the internet, cybercrimes are becoming more prevalent, and the risk of data breaches will continue to increase. Data breach notification laws are necessary to protect individuals' privacy and personal data by ensuring transparency and accountability when a breach occurs. They provide a framework that organizations must follow to minimize the risk of data breaches and protect individuals' personal information. By being aware of data breach notification laws, individuals can understand their rights and take measures to protect themselves when a breach occurs.

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