« Back

Data Protection: How to Protect Your Hard Copy Documents

How to Protect Your Hard Copy Documents

As data breaches continue to plague headlines, many businesses look at their own process weaknesses to avoid falling prey to the next breach. Long gone are the “good old days” of record retention – when paper documents were used most, and data protection was assumed and not heavily regulated.

The rise in data breaches has led to increased data protection policies for personal data. While new policies focus on the digital economy’s changing needs and emphasize the consumer’s rights, it’s important to remember that your hard copy documents need protection, too.

This post will explain why businesses need to safeguard their paper records, including how to do it.

Why Businesses Need to Protect Hard Copy Documents

When you consider the amount of information, including paper, involved in your daily processes, it might be hard to imagine what would happen if an identity thief were to access it.

Negligent retention of hard-copies containing personal information can result in a data breach. Many organizations have transitioned from paper to digital documents for a more efficient paperless system. However, overlooking your hard copies can make your business vulnerable to personal data attacks and heavy sanctions.

Given the vast volume of paper and digital files that can accumulate over time, effective data management policies are necessary for any organization. Having a retention and destruction program will help save your company’s time and reputation.

Data Protection Laws and Hard Copy Data

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) deals with digital technologies that previous privacy laws did not account for. However, the GDPR doesn’t ignore paper records. All organizations should ensure that their physical records procedures are as robust as digital data storage.

While personal data is at the heart of the GDPR, there’s no definitive list of what is or isn’t considered personal data. It all comes down to interpreting the GDPR’s definition correctly: ‘[P]ersonal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’).

Paper records consisting of personal data – whether used on their own or in conjunction with another piece of information – can relate to an individual’s identity. This can include anything from a post-it note with a telephone number on it to a contract. That’s why GDPR covers offline data as well.

If you’re unsure whether your stored information is personal data or not, it’s best to err on the side of caution. This means ensuring that data processing is limited to what is necessary and only keeping data as long as it’s needed. It also means rethinking your paper and privacy policies.

Create a Document Management Plan

All companies have files that must be maintained for legal compliance and operational needs, such as personnel records, client files, and contracts.

While managing this information efficiently can be tricky, having a document management plan makes it easier to prevent breaches from occurring.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the essential components to build a successful document management program:

Perform an inventory audit:

Identify the departments most likely to create and store records consisting of personally identifiable information (PII). Prioritize secure physical document storage and digital conversion. Create a classified filing system to locate records when needed quickly.

Develop a retention schedule:

If your paper files aren’t managed regularly, they’ll continue to pile up and put your company more at risk. Avoid this by implementing a record retention schedule to monitor your information and destroy it at the end of its lifecycle. Apply this not only to media and digital formats but paper as well.

Archive hard-copy documents:

It’s important to securely store inactive records that must be kept for legal purposes. To ensure your private information is not at risk, consider partnering with records storage companies that comply with federal, state, and local information security laws.

Scan records:

Multiple copies of the same file tend to be a problem that primarily affects hard-copy records management. One of the best ways to solve this issue is to scan paper records and store digital files in a cloud-based document management system (DMS). Cloud storage is a secure way to store your data, with encryption to keep it safe.

Securely shred your documents:

Data privacy laws require you to destroy your records securely. To prove compliance with these statutes, consider using professional paper shredding services that provide a Certificate of Destruction at the end of data destruction.

Train employees: 

Despite your company’s best efforts to comply with a retention schedule, staff may be holding sensitive information inside their desk drawers. Records management procedures should include ongoing training and communication to instruct employees on managing records securely and support an entity-wide approach to information management.

Incorporate privacy in your processes:

Make it difficult for unauthorized users to access or duplicate documents containing PII. Document storage, retention, and shredding processes should be reviewed with document security controls in mind.

Evaluate internal policies and external storage:

Record retention and hard copy archiving is an ongoing process. As part of your overall policy, revisit your procedures quarterly to see what improvements you can make.

These simple precautions could prevent you from dealing with the consequences of identity theft and fraud in the future.

Vital Records Control has the expertise to keep your data safe. We make it a priority to understand protection policies and adapt to the changing needs of our clients.

For more information about how to protect your sensitive data read “How Organizations Can Protect PII.”