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ACLU Criticism Highlights Under-Used Sales Point

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Criticism of the practice of using small personal shredders demonstrates another advantage of total-shred policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come under fire recently after reports surfaced that ongoing document-shredding practices are in conflict with the organization’s policies on the preservation and disposal of records. The ACLU’s archive manager, Janet Linde, resigned in May after she raised concerns through e-mails and internal memos that officials’ use of shredders "made a mockery of the organization’s policies."

The ACLU has maintained a long-standing policy that allows employees to shred documents as long as the shredding is documented and overseen by a records manager. The controversy over ACLU document shredding dates back to 2002 when it was first made public that senior officials within the organization kept document shredders in their offices and used them without first recording what type of document was being destroyed.

The problem is that it is almost impossible to maintain any record of what is being shredded on an incidental basis. There is no records retention program in the world that would or should endorse that practice. It creates a potential nightmare scenario from a records management and litigation perspective.

The only alternative that effectively avoids the risk of appearing to selectively shred some records is to establish a policy in which every record that does not go into the official, organized records retention program is destroyed through a comprehensive system. Any policy, short of that, runs the risk of appearing suspect and risks adverse inference. If employees are allowed to shred some documents and not others at their discretion, there is always the possibility that the question of why one piece of information was shredded and not another will arise and potentially be interpreted as suspicious. If such suspicions arise in legal proceedings, judges usually advise juries that they should assume that the shredded documents contained damaging evidence and were shredded to hide evidence.