The Problem of Reviewing Electronic Data

In a recent post on the Security Blog of ComputerWorld, a corporate security manager (i.e. an individual on the IT side of the aisle) lamented about the data retention policies at his company. Pointing out that much more data is currently being retained electronically than what is mandated by law, he noted the tremendous manpower that might be required to search through the vast amounts of this data if the need ever arose. As an alternative to the problem of over-retention the blogger (whose real identity was "disguised for obvious reasons") suggested a turning back of the technological clock, keeping paper records and turning the lawyers loose to sift through piles of paperwork.

The blogger has brought up an important problem,  "over-retention."  Electronic documents do not have to be physically placed in archives or files and IT departments may be instructed to automatically retain documents on a mass scale, oftentimes more than are necessary.  The consequences of not carefully thinking through which electronic documents should be retained and which should not becomes especially evident when a company must sort through those electronic documents for discovery purposes.  In other words, our blogger seems to caution that not spending the time or resources to come up with efficient document retention policies now, will eventually cost a company at some point in the future.

Of course our anonymous blogger's suggestion of reverting back to the old paper file days was likely in jest, but it does bring up some important issues to consider.  Data retention is one thing, retaining relevant data in a manner that is efficient is quite another.


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Johnette Hassell - May 17, 2008 3:47 PM

Organizations need a good Document Retention and Destruction plan, emphasize on Destruction. Getting rid of material that has reached a certain age has many benefits. It reduces costs, lessens the risk of inadvertently disclosing personnel or client personal information, protects intellectual property, and even helps keep the website from being "hacked." Backups take less time; drives run faster and don't have to be replaced as often, and discovery can be conducted faster and more reliably. The effort in planning, instead of "just keep everything forever" pays for itself quickly.

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