On January 27, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued examination observations related to cybersecurity and operational resiliency practices (“Examination Observations”). The observations highlight a set of best practices by market participants in the following areas:  (1) governance and risk management, (2) access rights and controls, (3) data loss prevention, (4) mobile security, (5) incident response and resiliency, (6) vendor management and (7) training and awareness.  Cybersecurity has been a key priority for OCIE since 2012.  Since then, it has published eight cybersecurity-related risk alerts, including an April 2019 alert addressing mobile security. OCIE has perennially included cybersecurity practices as part of its examination priorities (“Examination Priorities”) and listed all but mobile security as “particular focus areas” in the “information security” priority for 2020
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On January 7, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released its 2020 Examination Priorities (“2020 Priorities”).  While at first blush the themes appear consistent with and predictable from their 2019 priorities, on closer read OCIE has provided some new insights and some unexpected focus areas.  The themes for the 2020 Priorities are:  retail investors, information security, financial technology (“Fintech”) and innovation (including digital assets and electronic investment advice), several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies, anti-money laundering, market infrastructure (clearing agencies, national securities exchanges, alternative trading systems, transfer agents), and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies.  OCIE also stressed the challenges it faced in light of last year’s government shutdown and resource constraints, as the Division of Enforcement did in its 2019 Annual Report (see our analysis here), and the challenges in examining non-U.S. advisers due to limits that foreign data protection and privacy laws may place on cross-border information transfers.  In this post, we analyze the highlights in and our takeaways from the 2020 Priorities.
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On October 11, 2019, the leaders of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and Securities and Exchange Commission issued a joint statement to remind businesses that engage in digital asset activities of their anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).

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On September 18, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed its first civil suit alleging violations of broker-dealer registration requirements in U.S. digital asset markets.  In a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the SEC alleged that Defendants ICOBox and its founder, Nikolay Evdokimov, illegally conducted an unregistered public securities offering for their 2017 initial coin offering (“ICO”), and have operated an unregistered brokerage service facilitating the launch of ICOs in digital asset securities since 2017.
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In late July 2019, U.S. federal and state regulators announced three headline‑grabbing data privacy and cybersecurity enforcement actions against Equifax and Facebook.  Although coverage of these cases has focused largely on their striking financial penalties, as important are the terms the settlements imposed on the companies’ operations as well as their officers, directors, and compliance professionals—and what they signal about potential future enforcement activity to come.
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On June 24th, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill that would require large technology companies to regularly disclose to their users and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the value of the user data they collect and monetize.  The bipartisan bill, cited as the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, is intended to capture major online platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter that offer “free” services to users while monetizing user data through targeted advertising.

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On April 16, 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a Risk Alert addressing all registered broker-dealers and investment advisers’ (together, “Firms”)[1] privacy-related obligations under Regulation S-P (“Reg S-P”).  The Risk Alert set out the most frequent Reg S-P deficiencies OCIE identified during examinations over the past two years, and encouraged registrants to review their written privacy policies and procedures as well as the consistency with which these policies and procedures have been implemented.  The Alert is the latest in a series of recent privacy and cybersecurity guidance documents issued by the SEC, including the February 2018 Commission Statement and Guidance on Public Company Cybersecurity Disclosures and October 2018 Report of Investigation on cyber-related frauds and public company accounting controls.

This Risk Alert is consistent with the SEC’s approach of seeking to influence the conduct of registrants by providing guidance on specific compliance issues, followed by Risk Alerts noting common exam deficiencies, prior to pursuing enforcement actions.  Investment advisers and broker-dealers should  take this as a prompt to review their relevant policies and procedures to ensure they are appropriate and being followed in practice.
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On April 3, 2019, staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission released (1) a framework providing principles for analyzing whether a digital asset constitutes an investment contract, and thus a security, as defined in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. and (2) a no-action letter permitting TurnKey Jet, Inc., without satisfying registration requirements under the Securities

On February 20, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or “Commission”) issued a cease-and-desist order against Gladius Network LLC (“Gladius”) concerning its 2017 initial coin offering (“ICO”).  The SEC found that the Gladius ICO violated the Securities Act of 1933’s (“Securities Act”) prohibition against the public offer or sale of any securities not made pursuant to either an effective registration statement on file with the SEC or under an exemption from registration.[1]  While this is far from the first time that the SEC has found that a particular ICO token meets the definition of a “security” under the Securities Act,[2] this is notably the first action involving an ICO token issuer that self-reported its potential violation.  Due to this, and Gladius’s cooperation throughout the investigation, the SEC stopped short of imposing any civil monetary penalties among its ordered remedial measures.
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On December 20, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released its 2019 Examination Priorities.  The six themes for this year’s priorities are:  retail investors (including seniors and those saving for retirement), compliance and risk in registrants responsible for critical market infrastructure (clearing agencies, transfer agents, national securities exchanges and Regulation SCI entities), oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, digital assets, cybersecurity and anti-money laundering.  The only new theme for 2019 compared to 2018 is digital assets, which we take to imply a plan to more closely—and substantively—regulate investment advisers and broker-dealers involved with this asset class.  The 2019 priorities also more explicitly than the 2018 priorities describe specific practices that OCIE found concerning in examinations of those entities, many of which involved failure to adequately safeguard client assets and the adequacy of disclosures of conflicts of interest.  We expect to see a corresponding focus in Enforcement Division investigations and cases on these issues as a result.
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