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Alleged Illegal Shredding a Reminder that There is a “Right” Way

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February 14, 2017

A recent article in the UK publication The Sun describes an investigation into the alleged improper destruction of reports on political targets’ after the country’s Prime Minister ordered an inquiry. While the case unfolds very publicly, hopefully some good will come of it.

According to NAID CEO Bob Johnson, even news about events where shredding is potentially used for the wrong reasons can demonstrate the merits of sound and vigilant information destruction practices. “The overwhelming majority of businesses are required by law to protect personal information of the customers and employees,” says Johnson. “When other organizations are accused of shredding for the wrong reasons, it reminds those who must destroy discarded information that they need to demonstrate everything is being done above board and in conformance with standard operating procedures.”

When the ENRON/Andersen case unfolded in in 2002, corporate council began advising their customers of the need to avoid the inadvertent information disposal practices that could raise unwarranted suspicions. Their advice was to destroy everything that is discarded the same way all the time. “Anything that looks unusual or extraordinary has the risk of being interpreted as nefarious,” says Johnson, “even though it is innocent.”

Johnson says the risk is more than academic, adding, “During any legal contest or audit, opposing council will latch on to any information destruction event in the preceding months simply to cast doubt on the motives. If persuaded the destruction was motivated by the likelihood of the lawsuit, a judge will invoke a ruling of ‘adverse inference,’ thereby instructing jurors to assume the destroyed information was incriminating.”

Johnson describes these risks and other aspects of proper data destruction in his upcoming book titled, ‘Information Disposition: A Practical Guide to the Secure, Compliant Disposal of Records, Media and IT Assets.’

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