Destruction of records usually acquires negative connotation as it is generally assumed to be an illegal or amoral act. However, most countries have well-defined rules and procedures for the retention and destruction of records. As such, keeping records beyond the prescribed time limit can actually get you into legal and other troubles. Besides governmental or legal reasons, destruction of records is essential for practical reasons. No business (or individual) can afford to keep the vast amounts of documents and papers that accumulate over the years. In order to function efficiently, all organizations must routinely destroy the archived documents and records. This requires setting up of an intelligent and appropriate method for destruction of old.
Retention of irrelevant records not only consumes your office space and resources, it also poses the perpetual threat of misuse of leak of confidential information that may put your customers, employees, or company in jeopardy.
With electronic storage of records becoming increasingly commonplace, it has become a practice with corporations to scan and maintain data for indefinite periods. However, this can again get them into trouble and all organizations should adopt their respective record destruction policies.
However, record destruction should not be confused with the destruction of evidence. As such, all records that are perceived as having a legal value or those that that may be required for auditing purposes should be kept aside and saved from any destruction. Remember, destruction of evidence is a legal crime and can cause much suffering for your business.
As destruction of records is a complex business, let us learn when organizations should destroy records:
1. When Statutory Retention Periods Have Passed
The data retention regulations of all countries outline exactly when organizations are legally required to destroy certain records. No records should be ideally retained after the lapse of the statutory periods.
2. When the Data is No Longer Required
All organizations produce a good amount of data that does not have any archival, legal or long term use. These include receipts, deposit slips, monthly bank statements etc. Such type of records can be shredded on a monthly or annual basis. However, make sure to reconcile your receipts with your bank statement or accounts before destroying them. Also, you should only shred the bank statement after you have received the end-of the-year statement from your bank.
3. When You’ve the Backup Copies of All Data
As mentioned before, these days more and more data is being stored in electronic modules by the organizations. This has almost eliminated the need for maintaining the hard copies of such documents. As such, documents that have a back-up in the form of soft copies can be conveniently shredded. However, certain documents are legally required to be retained in their original, physical form. Therefore, records destruction needs to be pursued with immense care and knowledge of the data types.
4. When the Information is Confidential
It is extremely important to destroy any information that is of sensitive nature and should not be seen by others. Remember, all such data should be destroyed completely with no copies available in the trash can of your computer or any of the physical folders. Those intent on finding the information – hackers or otherwise – are always going to be able to extricate data that has not been completely destroyed. Therefore, you need to be extra careful.
While destruction of records is a sound business practices, there are times when data destruction needs to be suspended. Some of these situations include:
- When a particular record or a set of records is expected to be required for future litigation purposes.
- If an organization receives a legal notice to not destroy a certain document or a piece of information.
- If the record is being used in an audit, then destruction of the record should be suspended until the audit is complete.
- If some records have business or historic value for any organization then they might be retained beyond the statutory retention period. However, you must obtain all regulatory clearances beforehand.
Since there are reasons to keep as well as destroy records, all organizations must adopt a policy on data and document management. This policy should take into account all relevant national legislations with respect to document retention and destruction, and should also allow for practical business needs.