Quick Tips on Disposal of Electronic Records

We know how to dispose of paper records. You can either destroy the records by burning or shredding them. Although these methods of destroying records may have been a viable option in the past, these same methods might not be enough to remove all traces of data from records being stored electronically.

Before destroying an electronic record, the following questions must be answered:

  1. Does the destruction render the record or records unreadable?
  2. Is the destruction method appropriate for the sensitivity/confidentiality level of the records?

The common methods use to destroy electronic records are the following:

  • Deletion. This method is the simplest, easiest and most appropriate method for non-sensitive/non-confidential records. Remember that deleting is not the same as destroying the record; it just destroys the access to the record. The actual “1’s” and “0’s” may continue to exist on the storage medium until they are overwritten – and can be recovered using digital forensics.
  • Overwriting. A more effective method of destroying electronic records is to use software that overwrites the records multiple times (up to 10 times – the Department of Defense mandates at least three times) with strings of “1’s” and “0’s”. This makes the possibility that the records can be recovered much more remote than simply hitting the delete key.
  • Degaussing (Magnetic Media). Exposing magnetic media (such as tapes and old floppy disks) to a powerful magnetic field to scramble the data. It may take multiple passes of the magnet over the storage media to make sure the records are properly destroyed. Once this method is used on the storage device, the device can no longer be used.
  •  Physically Destroying Storage Media. Actually, physically destroying the storage may be the most viable destruction method for the most sensitive/confidential records. It may also be the most suitable of destroying records stored on portable media, such as shredding CDs and DVDs, cutting up old floppy disks, etc. On one occasion at TSLAC, the State and Local Records Management Division held a State Employee Charitable Campaign where people beat on old hard drives and computer equipment with sledge hammers and baseball bats for a donation.

It is good practice to track all electronic records due for destruction on a disposition log. A sample disposition log is located at the following link: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/forms.

The following links provide some additional information on the proper destruction of electronic records:

  1. Disposition of Electronic Records: What You Need to Know – Iron Mountain
  2. Taking Out the E-Trash – ARMA
  3. Electronic Records Retention and Destruction – Lawyers Mutual
  4. Information and FAQs on Electronic Media Destruction Services – NARA
  5. Electronic Records Services – NARA

Let us know what successes or challenges you are having in the proper disposal of your digital and electronic records in the comments below.