10 Reasons to Shred Your Shredder
So you've purchased a shredder. The bad guys are out of business, at least as far as you are concerned. Right? Your secrets are now safe. Your sensitive information is secured. You can't be accused of improperly disposing documents, or worse yet, obstruction of justice. Right?
Unfortunately, none of the above is necessarily true any more. In fact, you've just created a whole new set of equally frightening problems.
“10 Reasons Not to Shred (In-house),” explains why it's more secure, better business, and a far better legal strategy to use third party experts to certifiably destroy documents.
Reconstruction of Shredded Material. When a corporate intelligence officer, a/k/a “corporate spy” discovers shredded material in a Dumpster or recycle bin, it says to him “Read-me-first,” and that's exactly what he'll do. In the U.S., it only costs around $150 per hour to reconstruct shredded material, and far less in Asia, where much of it ends up.
In-house shredding machines typically fall into two types: Ribbon-cut and cross-cut. Both produce a product that is easy to reconstruct because of the size and regularity of the finished particle. Intelligence gatherers can either tediously reassemble the particles by hand, much like a puzzle, or scan each particle and then reassemble the document using software.
DOD (Department of Defense) specification shredders, which leave the material in a dust-like state, produce the only crosscut particle that can't be reassembled. This class of shredding machine is not only expensive, but also quite slow and not practical in most business applications.
Professional shredding contractors typically use one or all of the following shredding technologies: pierce and tear/rotary sheer, grinder, and hammermill. Because these techniques produce an infinite array of irregularly shaped particles, they are nearly impossible to reconstruct, and especially so when commingled with dozens of other clients' shredded waste.
Cost. In-house shredding programs minimally cost twice as much to operate as hiring a certified shredding contractor. Machine acquisition costs, maintenance contracts on the equipment, labor, facility upgrades, electricity, security containers, additional background checks, and added office space for the equipment, combine to chew up any savings one might expect after purchasing a shredder. Using a contractor provides the additional intangible savings by eliminating a thankless job, superior security, better disposal, and substantially reduced liability.
Certified Vs. Uncertified Destruction. In-house shredding programs typically do not qualify as certified destruction programs. Here's why. In-house shredding programs almost never develop, document, or observe a comprehensive destruction policy. Worse yet, when they do shred, they seldom properly log their destruction activities, such as, chain-of-possession, aging compliance, sensitivity ratings, and disposal procedures. This becomes a serious problem when the in-house operator is accused of mishandling a document, or of violating one of the numerous privacy statutes now in effect including HIPAA and FACTA.
If a company can't prove it actually destroyed the record in question by producing contemporaneous documentation to that fact, the in-house operator may be subject to severe penalties. By using a shredding contractor, an end-user bypasses these potential threats. Moreover, shredding contractors must carry professional liability insurance to defend against such accusations.
Witnessed Destruction. In-house shredding programs rarely utilize witnesses during the shredding process. Because shredding is both monotonous and requires little skill, the in-house shredder operator is typically a minimum wage, bottom of the totem pole employee who generally works alone. He or she is seldom observed while they shred, and only rarely audited to make sure pounds-in equal pounds-out. Because the throughput claims of the shredder manufacturer represent ideal performance, and not actual results, lowly paid workers feel pressured to achieve impossible results and routinely dump sensitive information in recycle/trash bins.
The destruction of negotiable instruments must always be witnessed, regardless if shredding is contracted or not, and that's from the time they are taken from the vault, until destroyed.
Moreover, what is indeed “negotiable” nowadays? Well, it used to be items like checks and stock certificates. Now, it's credit card numbers, which sell on the Internet for $.20 each in blocks of 100. It's valid Social Security numbers and other once innocuous but now precious personal information, which likewise demand a good dollar on the Internet.
Unfortunately for some folks, if no one is watching, these new negotiable instruments are simply too tempting to simply shred.
Background Checks. In-house shredding managers rarely perform the types of background checks on their employees that will standup if ever challenged. A simple criminal check is now insufficient. Employment fraud is a growing epidemic. All too often, the very person shredding for an in-house operation is the last person on earth who's qualified to do it. It's become a modern-day metaphor for the fox in the henhouse.
Disposal. Unlike shredding contractors who routinely commingle many clients' shredded material, and who bale and deliver material to paper mills with whom they have long-term relationships, in-house shredders typically dispose of their material in recycle bins or Dumpsters. This practice not only flies in the face of security protocol, it's environmentally unsound.
There is actually a far worse potential problem though. When the shred bag or collection chamber fills up on the in-house shredder, employees all too often say heck with it and routinely drop their sensitive information in recycle bins. Corporate intelligence operatives actually rely on this practice. Same thing happens when the shredder is out of service.
Perhaps the most significant issue regarding disposal is this. When an end-user surrenders shredded material to a recycler or any other party, the material then belongs to the recipient, who may then do anything they wish with it. This is especially true with shredded material deposited in the trash. Purchasing trash is a long accepted and highly effective practice in the fields of corporate intelligence, corporate security, and counterespionage.
OSHA and Potential Fire Hazards. Depending on the type of shredder, it is often required that in-house machines be operated in isolated, and independently vented rooms. Paper, metal, and plastic dusts can potentially contribute to variety of problems. If it accumulates in the building ductworks, it can create a fire hazard. At great expense, offending tenants can be ordered to mitigate an entire building, not just their space. Though perhaps frivolous, improper shredding can also prompt health claims by people working in the building. Something called sick building syndrome. Management must also consider noise and repetitive motion issues in high volume in-house shredding programs.
Disgruntled Employees, Former Employees, and Infiltrators. Do you remember the movie, Erin Brockovich? The true story about an environmental crusader who received the critical break in her case from a once-loyal, but now disgruntled employee who filched, instead of shredded, incriminating documents.
Do you remember where the most damaging documents came from in the tobacco class action suit? A scientist and former employee who retained sensitive information that was supposedly destroyed.
Infiltrators penetrate our most sensitive records depositories with ease. Some do it with technology, and others do it the old fashion way, by gaining trust and access to record storage areas of our largest companies. For an impersonator bent on lifting sensitive information, the shred-job is the preeminent assignment.
Security. Shredding contractors provide security containers and control the keys. Their security specialists are highly trained and exhaustively scrutinized. They typically destroy hundreds of millions of documents every year without incident. Most of the modern style, automated shred operations actually never come in visual or physical contact with documents.
Using a shredding contractor not only restricts internal access to sensitive information, it actually encourages employees to secure sensitive information better. Offices that employ professional shredding services have a much-heightened awareness to the sensitivity of their work product.
Shredding contractors are experts in document safekeeping, and purposefully position themselves in accounts as literal extensions of the end-users' corporate security. With most clients, the shredding contractor represents their only link to the world of document security.
Greatest Defense against Obstruction of Justice Charges is a Scheduled Shredding Service. Had Enron and Andersen employed independent shredding contractors on a weekly schedule, recent history might be far different. As these two mighty-fallen discovered, not shredding as a matter of ordinary business course is a weak defense against charges of obstruction of justice, and especially so, when the shredding is carried out internally.
On the other hand, prescheduled shredding performed by a contractor as a matter of ordinary business course is an unassailable defense against obstruction charges.
The ideal defensive shredding policy is to hire an independent certified shredding contractor, shred everything, recycle nothing whole sheet, pay by the shred container (not by weight or by timed services), and have the service regularly prescheduled.
Shredding has dramatically changed in the past 20 years. But, so has the law and crime.
We now shred things, and properly so, that never crossed our minds: airline luggage tags, pizza boxes (because a computer printed our address and phone number on it), our kids' homework, credit card offers, laundry tags, well, just about anything that's personal, sensitive, embarrassing, and uh… incriminating.
There are normal people who earn strange livings by snooping through our trash: attorneys, investigative reporters, and corporate intelligence operatives.
There are people in Asia who can't speak English, but can reassemble an Englishman's draft manuscript almost as fast as the author created it.
There are corporations that target up to five spy contractors on a single quarry, simply to confirm the intel quality.
There are back-slapping amiable office-types volunteering for shred duty who have an eye for New Age Negotiables.
There are obstruction laws that function under the principle that one is guilty, until proven innocent.
But there are good guys, too: Shredding contractors. Paper mills and baler manufacturers that learned how to handle shredded material. Mobile shred truck builders that created the concept of “blind” shredding. Security bin makers, and leasing and finance companies that studied the business and invested in it. And, dozens of other contributors who have made contracted shredding the preferred method of document destruction.
The last word: It's good to shred; it's now best done by a pro.