Retention & Defensible Disposal

Destroyed CDs - shredded by a shredder.It lingers on – that vaguely guilty feeling that there’s something sanctionable, even illegal, about routinely destroying business data.  That’s nonsense.  It is well-settled United States law that a company may indeed dispose of business data, if done in good faith, pursuant to a properly established, legally valid data retention schedule, and in the absence of an applicable litigation preservation duty.

Even the courts themselves dispose of their data.  Federal courts are required by U.S. law to follow a retention schedule approved by NARA, and to ultimately destroy records or transfer them to the Federal Records Center, as directed by that retention schedule.

Here are but a few of the many case decisions on this point:
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Endless book tunnel in Prague libraryAs the information tide relentlessly rises, many organizations simply see an IT problem, to be fixed with a purely IT solution – more storage capacity, more tools, or both.  But merely adding more storage is a reaction, not a strategy.  And adding technology tools without the right governance rules invariably makes things worse, not better.

This is not a criticism of your IT team.  Instead, the problem lies in a misunderstanding of the fundamental challenge.  Just as you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, you shouldn’t merely bring more storage capacity and IT tools-without-rules to your fight to regain control over your organization’s information.  What’s needed is governance.

More Storage is Not the Answer

If the accelerating, worldwide growth of data were a throw-back movie, it would star Vin Diesel – Fast & Furious.  It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the magnitude and velocity.  Try this – for context, the total content of all catalogued books in the Library of Congress has been estimated variously at 10 to 15 terabytes of data.  IDC’s Data Age 2025 study pegged the world’s 2018 data volume at 33 zetabytes (33 billion terabytes), and forecasted that data volume will reach 175 zetabytes by 2025, a more than quadruple increase.  In case your head hasn’t exploded … apparently 1,000 zetabytes is a yottabyte, and as of yet there is no officially recognized International System of Units name for 1,000 of those (I propose “Lottabyte”).

Why the dizzying growth?  Internet use is certainly a contributor (a lot can happen there each minute).  But it is the Internet of Things, combined with the Industrial Internet, that will increasingly generate gobsmacking quantities of device and machine data.

Let’s hone in on the reality faced by individual organizations. Unstructured data (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, audio and video files, email, and the like) can comprise 80% to 90% of total enterprise data.  Unstructured data is often largely uncontrolled, scattered across network drives, user’s computers, and the organization’s electronic content management (ECM), collaboration, and e-communication systems.

Veritas’ Data Genomics Project produced an interesting 2016 study that analyzed tens of billions of unstructured data files, with over 8000 file extensions, at Fortune 500 companies.  Key finding?  Storage capacity grows each year, but so does data volume – 39% annual growth in the number of unstructured data files, year over year.  Just as a bigger closet or garage at home results in the accumulation of more stuff, when businesses add larger on-premise or cloud repositories without governance controls, it inevitably leads to larger data volumes.  More storage simply enables more data hoarding.

Tools Without Rules are No Help Either


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One Bullet in Gun BarrelHaving too much data causes problems beyond needless storage costs, workplace inefficiencies, and uncontrolled litigation expenses.  Keeping data without a legal or business reason also exacerbates data security exposures.  To put it bluntly, businesses that tolerate troves of unnecessary data are playing cybersecurity roulette … with even larger caliber ammunition.

Surprisingly few U.S. data security laws and standards expressly require that protected data be compliantly disposed of once legal and business-driven retention periods expire.   PCI DSS v3.2.1, Requirement 3.1, provides “[k]eep cardholder data storage to a minimum by implementing data retention and disposal policies ….”  HIPAA regulations  mandate that business associate agreements require service providers, upon contract termination, to return or destroy all PHI received or created on the covered entity’s behalf, if feasible.  Alabama and Colorado require that records containing state-level PII be disposed of when such records are no longer needed.  And biometric data privacy laws in Illinois, Texas, and Washington generally require that biometric data be disposed of once it has served its authorized purpose.

Instead, most such laws and standards focus on securely sanitizing or destroying storage media.  For example, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework v. 1.1 includes as a security control (PR.IP-6) that “[d]ata is destroyed according to policy,” and ISO 27002 (§ 8.3.2) provides that “[m]edia should be disposed of securely when no longer required, using formal procedures.”

But data security is not achieved by simply running through a checklist of explicit compliance requirements – it instead requires assessing risks and establishing effective security controls.  And one of the most powerful security controls is to not keep too much data, for too long.
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3d blue cubes come together from different directions.Dr. Stephen Covey reminded us that “important” is not the same thing as “urgent.”  Records retention reminds us that important is not the same thing as exciting.  I get it – records retention schedules are boring.  But the fact remains that literally thousands of records retention requirements apply to your organization’s information.  I know, because my firm finds and tracks these laws as part of our decades of retention schedule work for clients across industries.  And your regulators expect you to know them too.

Records retention requirements generally apply to information’s content, regardless of the information’s medium – electronic data, paper, you name it.  The requirements are scattered across the federal and 50 states’ statutory and regulatory codes, often with unusual retention mandates.  Here are just a few:
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disk cleanupIn a previous post I suggested that Information Technology is really in a good position to help identify and clean up ROT (redundant, obsolete, and trivial information).  Sometimes, though, IT needs a helping hand to get the attention of those who can approve a budget for clean-up initiatives.  Here’s where Audit comes in.

Over the years, I’ve seen many information governance clean-up programs come to life in the wake of an expensive e-discovery effort, or an embarrassing and costly data breach.  Needless to say, such events draw the attention of the C-suite and boards of directors.  That attention usually translates into emergency funding and action to shut down e-mail retention, delete old files, and generally do what should have been done all along: better manage information.  Audits, whether external or internal, can serve the same function.


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Twenty percent solutionOK, IT mavens, listen up…how much better would your life be if you only had to manage and protect 20% of your company’s data? By eliminating 80% of your data you could free up oodles of storage, reduce licensing costs, shorten backup cycles, and drastically cut e-discovery preservation costs, not to mention go home on time for a change.  For most this is an unrealistic pipe dream, but it doesn’t need to be.  The trick is knowing which 20% to manage.

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Destroyed CDs - shredded by a shredder.It lingers on – that vaguely guilty feeling that there’s something sanctionable, even illegal, about routinely destroying business data.  That’s nonsense.  It is well-settled United States law that a company may indeed dispose of business data, if done in good faith, pursuant to a properly established, legally valid data retention schedule, and in the absence of an applicable litigation preservation duty.

Even the courts themselves dispose of their data.  Federal courts are required by U.S. law to follow a retention schedule approved by NARA, and to ultimately destroy records or transfer them to the Federal Records Center, as directed by that retention schedule.

Here are but a few of the many case decisions on this point:


Continue Reading

Endless book tunnel in Prague libraryAs the information tide relentlessly rises, many organizations simply see an IT problem, to be fixed with a purely IT solution – more storage capacity, more tools, or both.  But merely adding more storage is a reaction, not a strategy.  And adding technology tools without the right governance rules invariably makes things worse, not better.

This is not a criticism of your IT team.  Instead, the problem lies in a misunderstanding of the fundamental challenge.  Just as you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, you shouldn’t merely bring more storage capacity and IT tools-without-rules to your fight to regain control over your organization’s information.  What’s needed is governance.


Continue Reading

Wild Horses in Pens
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wildhorses/wild-horses-0

As a horsewoman, I have followed the plight of the American Mustang in recent years, and I am once again struck by parallels with the management—or lack thereof—of information.   Good intentions, poor execution.  Hopes that the problem would disappear.  Management by crisis.  Inattention leading to untenable yet continuing costs.   Fighting factions with competing agendas and differing views of the facts, with no resolution.

A little background:


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Hiker choosing between to directions at the mountainRetention schedules are essential in bringing order to a company’s complicated, chaotic information environment.  Whether they succeed in doing so depends largely on whether they are structured properly.  So, the age-old question is, what’s the best way to go – organizing the schedule by department/group, or by information content types?

The answer is both, plus an absolutely crucial element that’s missing from the question – the information’s context.


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