Ask the Magic 8-Ball; “Is Predictive Defensible Disposal Possible?”


The Good Ole Days of Paper Shredding

In my early career, shred days – the scheduled annual activity where the company ordered all employees to wander through all their paper records to determine what should be disposed of, were common place. At the government contractor I worked for, we actually wheeled our boxes out to the parking lot to a very large truck that had huge industrial shredders in the back. Once the boxes of documents were shredded, we were told to walk them over to a second truck, a burn truck, where we, as the records custodian, would actually verify that all of our records were destroyed. These shred days were a way to actually collect, verify and yes physically shred all the paper records that had gone beyond their retention period over the preceding year.

The Magic 8-Ball says Shred Days aren’t Defensible

Nowadays, this type of activity carries some negative connotations with it and is much more risky. Take for example the recent case of Rambus vs SK Hynix. In this case U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose reversed his own prior ruling from a 2009 case where he had originally issued a judgment against SK Hynix, awarding Rambus Inc. $397 million in a patent infringement case. In his reversal this year, Judge Whyte ruled that Rambus Inc. had spoliated documents in bad faith when it hosted company-wide “shred days” in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Judge Whyte found that Rambus could have reasonably foreseen litigation against Hynix as early as 1998, and that therefore Rambus engaged in willful spoliation during the three “shred days” (a finding of spoliation can be based on inadvertent destruction of evidence as well). Because of this recent spoliation ruling, the Judge reduced the prior Rambus award from $397 million to $215 million, a cost to Rambus of $182 million.

Another well know example of sudden retention/disposition policy activity that caused unintended consequences is the Arthur Andersen/Enron example. During the Enron case, Enron’s accounting firm sent out the following email to some of its employees:

 

 

This email was a key reason why Arthur Andersen ceased to exist shortly after the case concluded. Arthur Andersen was charged with and found guilty of obstruction of justice for shredding the thousands of documents and deleting emails and company files that tied the firm to its audit of Enron. Less than 1 year after that email was sent, Arthur Andersen surrendered its CPA license on August 31, 2002, and 85,000 employees lost their jobs.

Learning from the Past – Defensible Disposal

These cases highlight the need for a true information governance process including a truly defensible disposal capability. In these instances, an information governance process would have been capturing, indexing, applying retention policies, protecting content on litigation hold and disposing of content beyond the retention schedule and not on legal hold… automatically, based on documented and approved legally defensible policies. A documented and approved process which is consistently followed and has proper safeguards goes a long way with the courts to show good faith intent to manage content and protect that content subject to anticipated litigation.

To successfully automate the disposal of unneeded information in a consistently defensible manner, auto-categorization applications must have the ability to conceptually understand the meaning in unstructured content so that only content meeting your retention policies, regardless of language, is classified as subject to retention.

Taking Defensible Disposal to the Next Level – Predictive Disposition

A defensible disposal solution which incorporates the ability to conceptually understand content meaning, and which incorporates an iterative training process including “train by example,” in a human supervised workflow provides accurate predictive retention and disposition automation.

Moving away from manual, employee-based information governance to automated information retention and disposition with truly accurate (95 to 99%) and consistent meaning-based predictive information governance will provide the defensibility that organizations require today to keep their information repositories up to date.

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Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!


Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!

Do organizations regularly dispose of information in a systematic, documented manner? If the answer is “sure we do”, do they do it via a standardized and documented process or “just leave it to the employees”?

If they don’t…who cares – storage is cheap!

When I ask customers if they have a formal information disposal process, 70 to 80 percent of the time the customer will answer “yes” but when pressed on their actual process, I almost always hear one of the following:

1.    We have mailbox limits, so employees have to delete emails when they reach their mailbox limit
2.    We tell our employees to delete content after 1,2, or 3 years
3.    We store our records (almost always paper) at Iron Mountain and regularly send deletion requests

None of these answers rise to an information governance and disposal process. Mailbox limits only force employees into stealth archiving, i.e. movement of content out of the organization’s direct control. Instructing employees to delete information without enforcement and auditing is as good as not telling them to do anything at all. And storing paper records at Iron Mountain does not address the 95%+ of the electronic data which resides in organizations.

Data center storage is not cheap. Sure, I can purchase 1 TB of external disk at a local electronics store for $150 but that 1 TB is not equal to 1 TB of storage in a corporate data center. It also doesn’t include annual support agreements, the cost of allocated floor space, the cost of power and cooling, or IT resource overhead including nightly backups. Besides, the cost of storage is not the biggest cost organizations who don’t actively manage their information face.

The astronomical costs arise when considering litigation and eDiscovery. A recent RAND survey highlighted the fact that it can cost $18,000 to review 1 GB of information for eDiscovery. And considering many legal cases include the collection and review of terabytes of information, you can imagine the average cost per case can be in the millions of dollars.

So what’s the answer? First, don’t assume information is cheap to keep. Data center storage and IT resources are not inexpensive, take human resources to keep up and running, and consume floor space. Second, information has legal risk and cost associated with it. The collection and review of information for responsiveness is time consuming and expensive. The legal risks associated with unmanaged information can be even more costly. Imagine your organization is sued. One of the first steps in responding to the suit is to find and secure all potentially responsive data. What would happen if you didn’t find all relevant data and it was later discovered you didn’t turn over some information that could have helped the other side’s case? The Judge can overturn an already decided case, issue an adverse inference, assign penalties etc. The withholding or destruction of evidence is never good and always costs the losing side a lot more.

The best strategy is to put policies, processes and automation in place to manage all electronic data as it occurs and to dispose of data deemed not required anymore. One solution is to put categorization software in place to index, understand and categorize content in real time by the conceptual meaning of the content.  Sophisticated categorization can also find, tag and automatically dispose of information that doesn’t need to be kept anymore.  Given the amount of information created daily, automating the process is the only definitive way to answer ‘yes we have a formal information disposal process’.