Federal Judge Rules That Lawyers Need Not Comply With Red Flags Rules

After hearing argument yesterday, Federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton entered an order (.pdf) this morning granting the American Bar Association’s (ABA) request that lawyers be excluded from enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) controversial Red Flags Rules.  This comes as the legal community steeled itself for the FTC’s imminent November 1st enforcement deadline.  The order does not go into detail to explain the Court’s decision, but promises a written legal opinion within the next month.

The ABA sued the FTC in August to obtain this relief after lobbying both the FTC and Congress to exempt lawyers from the Red Flags Rules.  News of the judge’s ruling spread after the hearing yesterday.  ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm stated "By voiding the FTC’s interpretation of a statute that was clearly not intended to apply to the legal profession, the court has ensured that lawyers stay focused on the mission of their work: providing aid and counsel to the individuals and organizations that need us."  No public comment has been posted by the FTC.

Caution may be warranted here, however.  Lawyers, like many other consultants that handle clients’ documents and data, will likely be required to take many, if not all of the same security measures demanded of their clients.  The Red Flags Rules require, among many things, that companies oversee how their service providers manage customer information and accounts (16 CFR Part 681.1(e)(4)).  As a result, lawyer may find themselves complying with the Red Flags Rules because they represent companies that must comply with the Rules, which currently includes financial institutions and a range of businesses. 

It should be noted that a range of federal and state laws demand that companies ensure that customer information is protected "downstream" — i.e., by consultants, accountants, lawyers and anyone else who is given access to customer records. Many state identity theft regulations, such as the strict Massachusetts regulations promulgated as 201 CMR 17.00, require that companies obtain written certifications that service providers are taking all the same security measures as their clients.  Moreover, financial institutions governed by the Gramm Leach Bliley Act and health care providers covered by HIPAA have similar requirements.  Under these overlapping obligations, lawyers and law firms who represent regulated businesses may have little to celebrate as a result of the ruling in favor of the ABA.

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