Protecting Personal Confidential Information
Identity theft can occur if someone obtains a party’s personal information and uses it to take the party’s money or to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can devastate a party’s credit rating and derail financial security. FINRA Dispute Resolution takes steps to protect parties’ personal confidential information throughout the arbitration process.
Except for arbitration awards, which are publicly available, the documents and information in FINRA Dispute Resolution case files are confidential. FINRA Dispute Resolution limits access to personal confidential information to FINRA staff members who need it to perform their job functions, and to arbitrators, mediators, or other individuals involved directly in the arbitration or mediation process. Examples of personal confidential information include:
- Social security numbers;
- Brokerage, bank, or other financial account numbers;
- Taxpayer identification numbers; and
- Medical records.
What FINRA Does to Protect Personal Confidential Information
FINRA takes numerous steps to protect personal confidential information. Here are a few examples of the precautionary measures we take:
- Train FINRA staff members about the importance of protecting personal confidential information;
- Verify the recipient for all case correspondence;
- Confirm arbitrator contact information (address, email and fax) upon appointment;
- Encrypt electronic messages sent outside FINRA that contain personal confidential information;
- Encrypt digital files when stored on laptops or portable media devices (e.g., flash drives);
- Store and dispose of case materials in a manner that preserves the confidentiality of the information; and
- Remove personal confidential information that appears in publicly available awards.1
Case Related Documents that Include Personal Confidential Information
FINRA does not disclose personal confidential information unless a party to whom the information pertains authorizes FINRA to make the disclosure. FINRA may, however, disclose personal confidential information under the following circumstances: to comply with a state or federal law or regulation; to respond to a subpoena, court order, government request, or other legal process; or as otherwise permitted by law.
What Arbitrators and Mediators do to Protect Personal Confidential Information
Arbitrators and mediators also play an important role in protecting sensitive information. Here are some examples:
- Keep confidential all information obtained in connection with an arbitration or mediation;
- Transport, store, and dispose of case materials in a manner that preserves the confidentiality of the information;
- Return extra copies of hearing materials to FINRA when non-FINRA hearing locations do not provide for secure document disposal services; and
- Participate in FINRA training programs on information security.
What Parties Can Do to Protect Personal Confidential Information
FINRA urges parties and their counsel to take steps to protect confidential information. Actions parties can take include the following:
- Safeguard personal confidential information by redacting such information from pleadings, exhibits, and other documents upon agreement of the parties. For example, the parties may agree:
- Not to use or to redact birth dates, social security, account, or driver license numbers; and
- Where such data must be referenced, to use only the birth year, the last few digits of social security, bank or account numbers, or similar information.
- Ask the arbitrators to resolve any disagreement among the parties concerning the use or redacting of personal confidential information; and
- Take all documents that are not needed for the official record when leaving the arbitration hearing.
By working together, we can ensure that personal confidential information is well protected.
1 Arbitration awards are made publicly available on FINRA’s website. Most arbitration awards do not contain personal confidential information. On occasion, an award might contain sensitive information, such as an account number. In that case, FINRA will redact that information from the award before we publish the award on our website.