Introduction to Email Compliance for Business Communications

Introduction to Email Compliance for Business Communications

Looking for email compliance requirements for business emails? With violations costing thousands, understanding the compliance requirements can only help in the long run.

What is email compliance? Organizations demonstrate email compliance when their emails meet specific regulations and requirements set by governments and industries that protect the privacy and data of individuals. Examples of compliance regulations include CAN-SPAM and GDPR.

What Is Security and Privacy Compliance for Email?

Email is, by far, the most common form of communication for businesses. It’s fast, convenient, and essentially free. Email is efficient, which fuels productivity and, ideally, company growth. Email, despite these attributes, does have a key limitation. First and foremost, email is not secure. Anyone can read it, not just the intended recipient. IT departments, law enforcement agencies, hackers, and even someone who finds a phone in the back of a cab can read messages not intended for them.

Data privacy regulations like GDPR and HIPAA, designed to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Personal Health Information (PHI), typically prohibit companies from using mail to share someone’s personal data without proper encryption or other protections in place, like access controls, data retention, auditable log files, and reporting features.

If you don’t have these technologies (and/or processes for using these technologies), you are most likely noncompliant. This is especially problematic when you’re handling and sharing data belonging to EU residents. GDPR fines can be extremely costly to your business and your reputation. Ultimately, you are 100% responsible for compliance when using email; ignore these requirements at your own peril.

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Compliance, Security, Marketing, and Spam for Email

Different data privacy regulations focus on different aspects of communication:

  • HIPAA/SOC 2/FedRAMP/PCI DSS: If you operate in or serve an industry that handles either PII or PHI, your regulatory obligations are centered on protecting private data and maintaining confidentiality. This includes a variety of security and reporting controls to maintain email privacy laws.

    In areas like healthcare (HIPAA), payment processing (PCI DSS), or federal government or government contracting work (FedRAMP), the data security requirements are so rigorous that it typically isn’t worthwhile to send information via email unless you are doing it through links to secure servers.

  • GDPR: The European Union’s information security framework is rather onerous and includes additional rules for email marketing and spam. GDPR designates EU residents as owners of their data, not the companies that hold their data. As a result, companies must obtain opt-in consent from a data owner before engaging in marketing activities and must keep records of that consent. Companies must also hand over or delete an EU resident’s data from their system upon the data owner’s request. Finally, a company must maintain a high level of IT security and employ confidentiality safeguards across all communications, audit logs, and reports.

  • CAN-SPAM: The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act is similar to GDPR in that it sets the guidelines by which businesses can engage in email marketing. There are, however, important differences. Unlike GDPR’s opt-in consent requirement, businesses don’t require consent before sending a message. Recipients must opt out. Penalties enforced by the FTC can be up to $16,000 per mail with no cap on the number of infractions. Additionally, it doesn’t include the same level of security requirements about deleting consumer data. Businesses sending marketing emails, however, still must protect a recipient’s private data.

  • Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) was created in 2014 to “reinforce best practices in email marketing and combat spam and related issues.” The legislation regulates the abuse of spam similar to GDPR and CAN-SPAM, but implements much more specific and stringent requirements for marketing. Individuals must, for example, consent to receive marketing emails. “Consent” is differentiated as either implied or explicit, and marketers must send a one-time double opt-in request to subscribers whose consent has not been explicitly granted. A single CASL violation can cost a business CA$10 million per violation and can also cost an individual up to CA$1 million per violation.

  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a marketing and privacy law for companies doing business in California. It contains many of the same features as GDPR, including the right to delete personal information and the right to know what customer information a company has. Unlike GDPR, CCPA includes an opt-out clause rather than an opt-in. Penalties extend from unintentional breaches ($2,500 per unintentional violation) and intentional violations ($7,500 per intentional violation).

There are several layers of responsibility and accountability, as these regulations illustrate, and they vary on how an email is used. Generally, your obligations for compliance—whether for direct contact or marketing purposes—will span several conditions. You must do the following:

  • Protect Private Information: PII or PHI is, in most data privacy regulations, protected data. The data must therefore remain secure and confidential whether at rest or in transit. All email messages containing PII or PHI should be encrypted or include a secure link that requires recipient authentication to access.
  • Document and Report Interactions: Most, if not all, data privacy regulations require some sort of documentation and auditing if for no other reason than to show that you are meeting consumer data privacy obligations. Once again, for GDPR, you must also demonstrate that you have gained consent for marketing and have complied with any request to delete consumer information.
  • Properly Disclose Data: You must protect customers but also maintain control over how that information is disclosed to others. It’s impossible, for example, to send clear text messages or emails through public providers and keep data private (even with encryption in place). This is why some platforms include another mechanism alongside mail to provide control over potential unauthorized disclosure.
  • Retain Documents: Some regulations, like HIPAA, require you to retain certain documents for certain periods of time (dictated by individual states and type of document). If you communicate with patients, you may need to retain those communications, which means your server should have that capability.

This requirement isn’t exclusive to HIPAA. Different industries call for different lengths of retention for important documents:

Types of Records Years Required to Retain Documents
Taxes 7 Years
Publicly-Traded Companies 7 Years
Education 5 Years
Finance (Banking) 5 Years
Investment and Brokerage 7 Years
Healthcare 7 Years
Drugs and Pharmaceuticals 2 Years
Department of Defense 3 Years
Credit Card Providers 1 Year
Telecommunications 2 Years

Who you send emails to and what content they contain will determine the level of compliance you must achieve. Compliance, as you have seen, can get complex and requires a comprehensive and secure solution.

Achieve Compliance with the Kiteworks Platform

Kiteworks provides secure email that adheres to most data privacy requirements. We do so with a focus on the following:

  • Secure Email Links: The Kiteworks platform uses AES-256 encryption at rest and TLS-1.2 in transit, with FIPS 140-2 validated and FedRAMP Authorized options to ensure confidential data stays private. Secure links ensure only authenticated users can read the message, and controls prevent forwarding to unauthorized parties.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Emails are encrypted and secured, and document folders are protected with granular policy controls, meaning that we can help you meet your regulatory obligations, whether they are for PCI DSS, GDPR, FedRAMP, SOC 2, NIST 800-171, HIPAA, or multiple frameworks, like NIST CSF and ISO 27001.
  • Immutable Audit Trails: Audit trails prove that you trace all file activity and catalog security events and other items (like users providing consent for marketing), so you demonstrate compliance with regulators. Audit trails also assist law enforcement in the event of a security incident or comply with a legal hold for eDiscovery activities. Our immutable trails ensure that you’re always getting a complete picture.
  • CISO Dashboard: The dashboard helps you monitor and trace your data as it enters, traverses, and exits your organization. You can see who sent what to whom, when, and where—and prove it to auditors and regulators. With visibility down to the file level, you can drill down to the actionable details, including users, timestamps, and IP addresses, to spot anomalies and respond to threats in real-time.
  • Private Cloud: Our cloud services are hosted on dedicated private, hybrid, or FedRAMP cloud environments to maximize the security and compliance of your data and operations.

To learn how your business can ensure email compliance, schedule a custom demo of Kiteworks today.

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