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What if a HIPAA covered entity (or business associate) uses a CSP to maintain ePHI without first executing a business associate agreement with that CSP?


If a covered entity (or business associate) uses a CSP to maintain (e.g., to process or store) electronic protected health information (ePHI) without entering into a BAA with the CSP, the covered entity (or business associate) is in violation of the HIPAA Rules.  45 C.F.R §§164.308(b)(1) and §164.502(e).  OCR has entered into a resolution agreement and corrective action plan with a covered entity that OCR determined stored ePHI of over 3,000 individuals on a cloud-based server without entering into a BAA with the CSP.[1]

Further, a CSP that meets the definition of a business associate – that is a CSP that creates, receives, maintains, or transmits PHI on behalf of a covered entity or another business associate – must comply with all applicable provisions of the HIPAA Rules, regardless of whether it has executed a BAA with the entity using its services. See 78 Fed. Reg. 5565, 5598 (January 25, 2013).  OCR recognizes that there may, however, be circumstances where a CSP may not have actual or constructive knowledge that a covered entity or another business associate is using its services to create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI.   The HIPAA Rules provide an affirmative defense in cases where a CSP takes action to correct any non-compliance within 30 days (or such additional period as OCR may determine appropriate based on the nature and extent of the non-compliance) of the time that it knew or should have known of the violation (e.g., at the point the CSP knows or should have known that a covered entity or business associate customer is maintaining ePHI in its cloud).  45 CFR 160.410.  This affirmative defense does not, however, apply in cases where the CSP was not aware of the violation due to its own willful neglect.

If a CSP becomes aware that it is maintaining ePHI, it must come into compliance with the HIPAA Rules, or securely return the ePHI to the customer or, if agreed to by the customer, securely destroy the ePHI.  Once the CSP securely returns or destroys the ePHI (subject to arrangement with the customer), it is no longer a business associate.  We recommend CSPs document these actions.

While a CSP maintains ePHI, the HIPAA Rules prohibit the CSP from using or disclosing the data in a manner that is inconsistent with the Rules. 

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on October 6, 2016