Disposal of paper is of course relatively straightforward. After all you can physically put it in the bin. However, it is worth giving some brief consideration as to what is really happening to the information you throw away and to highlight some potential risks for the unwary.
Many offices will now have a recycling bin into which you are encouraged to throw unwanted paper. Whilst such ‘green’ efforts are in general to be encouraged, you should be careful that you are not putting sensitive or confidential information into the recycle bin.
These bins are likely to be emptied less frequently than normal refuse bins and are also known as a good place for passing staff to find scrap paper for scribbling notes on or to sketch out a quick diagram. It would not be the first time that someone has discovered the contents of a confidential memo or someone’s annual appraisal that way!
Most institutions will operate a confidential waste scheme, though there may not be facilities for collection in every office. Find out where your nearest confidential waste bin is and be sure to use it for the disposal of sensitive or confidential information. Such information is likely to include:
- Personal data such as application forms, CVs and appraisal records
- Commercially sensitive information such as contracts or bids
- The unedited minutes of sensitive meetings
- Anything that you would be uncomfortable about being made widely available
- If no such confidential waste scheme is operated within your institution you should invest in a shredder for your area, preferably one which ‘cross-shreds’ (ie, cuts both horizontally and vertically) and which cuts the paper into confetti-sized pieces.
An electronic file is a digital file, the elements of which may be held in different parts of a hard drive, and in some cases in different drives or storage media. The end-user does not delete a record by calling it up and pressing the delete button.
In most windows systems it will be put into a recycle folder as a first step and then has to be deleted again from that point. Even then it will not be completely erased, only the easy means of tracing the file will have gone.
It is relatively easy to re-access the hard-drive using specialised programmes. This is worth bearing in mind if your institution has a policy of ‘recycling’ its IT equipment by donating it to local schools or charities etc.
Of course any good network will also be backed up regularly so even if you have destroyed any local copies it is still possible that copies will remain on back-up disks and tapes.