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Data Retention vs. Data Destruction

It can be common practice in business to just store every single piece of data that has been created and then, when the time comes, to archive it. But for some businesses this might not actually be the best practice. Small businesses especially may find that they actually don’t need to spend on huge archives for their data and that it might be best to destroy it after a certain amount of time. This article will explore each side and help advise what might be best for your business.

Although storage continues to drop in price and become more readily available, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right to buy more and expand your archives. In fact, holding archives can cost more than you may first realise, depending on the type of method used. Physical storage not only includes the device, but also the space where it is held and the power required to run it. Cloud storage will also usually come with annual costs, perhaps increased for the amount of space used.

Tony McFarland, an attorney at law firm Bass, Berry & Sims PLC, told Network World that he believes that “there’s too much data, and unnecessary data”. He believes that there are legal downsides for keeping storage for a long time.

“[Storing data forever is] the reverse of what we should be doing,” he claims. “Aggressive adversary lawyers push for every iota of information you keep.”

Debatably, though, this is poor advice. A business should act legal and moral regardless, so advising to delete data simply due to possible future legal percussions is strange. Nevertheless, McFarland proposes some tips on how to create what he calls a “data destruction plan”.

These tips include deleting all emails after a certain period of time, removing shared folders, remaining only personal employee information that law requires and also strictly obeying industry regulated timeframes for storing data.

The last point is a key one. Many industries have legal requirements for how long you should store certain data. On top of that, governments often have timeframes on specific data. It’s important to note that these regulations vary per industry and country, so be sure to familiarise yourself with the specific rules for your business.

Although data destruction may have benefits, there’s also an argument for restoring the data too. For example, some data may come in useful for developing future strategies. A lot can be learnt from past data, like how to improve systems or where the company might have failed.

It may be beneficial to invest in a records management system, allowing the archive to be more than just a simple dump of old data. This method could involve some culling of purely useless data. For some businesses, however, it is actually just simpler and cheaper to retain all data in an archive. Setting up and monitoring rules (for regulations can change) requires continual investment, which might not be worthwhile.

Whatever the ultimate choice, destruction or retention, the vital part is that it complies with industry and government regulation. Failure to do so could result in fines or more severe penalties.

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