Update on the Hannaford suit

In a recent post, I mentioned how a US District Judge was considering whether or not consumers had the necessary standing to sue Hannaford Brothers over the data breach that Hannaford suffered in 2008. There's now been a ruling on this that may have interesting implications for both security and privacy.

The judge essentially ruled that if consumers didn't suffer any financial damage from the data breach then they have no damages to recover, and their claims were thrown out. In most data breaches involving credit cards, consumers end up suffering no financial damages – those are typically absorbed by the merchants that accepted the fraudulent transactions on the stolen credit cards. Because of this, consumers who have their credit card number stolen may find their options limited if they don't actually suffer any losses from the breach.

Here's how the Judge summarized his thoughts:

But if the merchant is not negligent, or if the negligence does not produce that completed direct financial loss and instead causes only collateral consequences—for example, the customer’s fear that a fraudulent transaction might happen in the future, the consumer’s expenditure of time and effort to protect the account, lost opportunities to earn reward points, or incidental expenses that the customer suffers in restoring the integrity of the previous account relationships—then the merchant is not liable.

This ruling may make data breaches much less costly for the businesses who suffer the breaches, and may leave the PCI DSS as the only effective tool to use to get businesses to take the security of credit card information seriously.

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