Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Practical Nomad on the Expedia/ data breach

The Practical Nomad has a very interesting post on the recent Expedia/ privacy and security breach resulting from the loss of an auditor's laptop. (For my previous comments, including the fact that my data may have been on the laptop in question, see: The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Incident: customer info on laptop stolen from auditor in February.)

The Practical Nomad blog: Expedia auditors lose laptop with customer credit card numbers:


Notably, Expedia has not said whether it had in place the contractual privacy commitments from Ernst & Young that would be required under Canadian (and other countries') laws -- although not under USA law -- as a precondition to allowing Erndst & Young to access personal information in customer or reservation records. operates one of the world's largest travel Web site affiliate networks , many of whose members (in addition to the other Expedia divisions in the USA, Canada, and Europe), hide the service behind their own "private label". Many customers may never have realized they were dealing with rather than the company that operates the "private label" Web site. In the past, this lack of transparency has been one of the major themes of customer compliants against, especially when customers had problems at check-in and didn't knom whom to call. And customers of Expedia divisions in Canada and Europe may not have known that their personal data was being passed on to in the USA.

So, I asked, (1) does attempt to identify, or keep a record of, the country from which personal information was collected, and (2) are the actions being taken the same for all people whose data may have been on the stolen laptop, or are any different or additional actions being taken with respect to people from whom data may have been collected while they were in Canada or the European Union (e.g. as potentially identifiable from the IP address or the origination of the transaction through or, in light of the differences in Canadian and European Union data protection law?

The response on behalf of Expedia? "We do not track or capture geographies aside from the address customers provide for the transaction."

In other words, the word's largest Internet travel agency -- even though it requires cookie acceptance for purchases, and undoubtedly logs IP addresses and tracks referrals by affiliate -- make no attempt to keep track of the jurisdiction and legal conditions under which personal information is provided, or ensure that those restrictions accompany the data whenit is passed on. Even if they wanted to comply with the law in Canada and the EU, where they operate entire divisions, their current data structures aren't adequate to support compliance with the laws in those jurisdictions.

From what I've seen of industry norms, Expedia is no exception. Neither computerized reservation systems nor the AIRIMP (more on the latest AIRIMP revisions in a forthcoming post) support transmitting or recording the jurisdiction or rules under which any portion of the data in a passenger name record (which typically includes data entered in multiple jurisdictions, so a single field for the entire PNR would not suffice). But if Expedia can get away with ignoring data protection laws in countries where they do billions of dollars a year in busisness, so can the little guys.

This should be the test case of whether USA-based travel companies that do business in, and/or accept personal data from affiliates in, Canada and the EU need to track the jurisdiction and conditions governing use of that data, and ensure that those jusirsdictional and usage-restriction notes follow the data wherever it goes.

If you reserved a hotel through, and you were in Canada or the EU at the time, demand an explanation from the company, and complain to your national privacy commissioner or other national data protection authorities.

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