How Long Should You Retain Records?

We have been asked many times how long businesses should retain their records, whether in email, files or other venues. The simple answer to the question is that there isn’t “an” answer. Instead, there are a number of issues to consider in determining how long you should retain your records:

  • What does your legal counsel advise?
  • What have court decisions in your industry revealed?
  • What is your organization’s tolerance for risk?
  • What are the consequences of disposing of records too quickly versus keeping them for too long?
  • What do government and industry regulations require as minimum retention periods?

To address the last question, we are assembling a database of regulations focused on data retention. We published the first edition in December with 421 regulations, but will be publishing the next edition in March with approximately 1,000.

Here’s a sample of the types of data retention regulations that exist today:

  • Manufacturers and importers of chemicals must retain documents related to notification of risk, contact information about entities to whom chemicals are distributed, production volumes and other information for three to five years (40 CFR 82.13).
  • Entities that operate as swap data depositories must retain records related to swaps or related cash or forward transactions for a period of five years, the first two years in an easily accessible place, but records of oral communications may be kept for only one year (17 CFR 1.31).
  • Underground mine operators must retain certifications for safety equipment for one year (30 CFR 57.4201).
  • Anyone who imports nonroad and stationary engines must retain documents supporting the information required in EPA Declaration Form 3520-21 for five years (19 CFR 12.74).
  • Entities that operate air curtain incinerators that burn yard waste must retain records about all opacity tests for five years (40 CFR 60.1455).
  • Manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles and engines must retain records estimating how their fleets will comply with GHG emissions standards; estimated vehicle configuration, test group and fleet production volumes; expected emissions and fuel consumption test group results and fleet average performance; and other information (49 CFR 535.8).
  • The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) requires entities subject to various sections of the Income Tax Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Pension Plan to retain for two to 10 years any books and records that will permit the CRA to determine taxation, the qualification of registered charities, permit the verification of various types of donations, etc. (CRA Information Circular IC78-10R5).

There are two key takeaways from this:

  1. There is no such thing as an “unregulated” industry or company in the context of data retention: every business in every industry must retain records for some length of time.
  2. Data retention is not easy, particularly in the context of being able to find archived records, disposing of them properly, and migrating them to new archives and other information platforms. The technology used to archive, search for and migrate records is critical.

For more information on our Data Retention Requirements Guide, click here.

The Impact of the GDPR on Cloud Providers

We just published a new white paper on the European Union’s (EU’s) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and will soon be publishing the results of the two surveys we conducted for that white paper.

In the second of the two surveys we conducted, we asked the following question: “Will your organization increase or decrease use of cloud technology as a result of the GDPR?” We found that 50 percent of respondents indicated they would do so, 39 percent said there will be no change, six percent said they didn’t yet know, and only five percent said that use of the cloud will decrease. That tells us a few things:

  • Many decision makers are still unsure about how they’ll deal with the GDPR. A thorough reading of the regulation, as with most government rules, leaves room for interpretation. For example, if data on an EU resident is subject to a litigation hold in the United States and the EU resident exercises his or her right to be forgotten, should the data controller violate its obligations to retain the data or violate the GDPR? That uncertainty will lead many to seek the assistance of third parties, many of which will be cloud providers that have more expertise in dealing with these kinds of issues.
  • Many organizations will pass the buck to their cloud providers. Because many organizations are simply not sure about how to deal with the GDPR, particularly smaller ones that can’t afford a team of GDPR-focused legal and compliance experts, they will rely increasingly on cloud providers who they anticipate/expect/hope will navigate the intracacies of the GDPR on their behalf. We believe that will accelerate the replacement of on-premises solutions with those based in the cloud.
  • Consequently, the choice of cloud providers will become extremely important. Since a cloud provider that inadvertently violates key provisions of the GDPR while working on behalf of their clients will not be a shield from prosecution, GDPR savvy will become a top priority when selecting new, or staying with existing, cloud providers.
  • The new ePrivacy Regulation that will supplement or replace key provisions of the GDPR will impose significant usability restrictions on even simple activities like web surfing. For example, it is very likely that web site visitors will need to grant permission for each and every cookie dropped into their browser when visiting a web site, yet that web site operator will not be able simply to block content for those users who do not grant permission. This will make the choice of a web host extremely important in order to comply with both the GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation.

In short, while the GDPR increases privacy protections for individual users in the EU, it is increasing the risk for those that wish to provide content to them. Many companies, particularly smaller ones, will seek to mitigate that risk by handing it off to cloud providers.

You can download our newest GDPR white paper here, and get more information on the ePrivacy Regulation here and here.

You Need to Archive Mobile Text Messages

Osterman Research has found that roughly one-third of the typical information worker’s day is spent working on a mobile device, and an even greater proportion of work-related content is accessed using mobile devices. The impetus for the growing use of mobile devices is driven by a number of factors, although the use of personally owned devices is a key factor in their adoption in the workplace. As shown in the following figure, the use of company-owned and personally-owned smartphones is on the increase.

Source: Osterman Research, Inc.

The use of messaging applications on mobile devices, such as email and SMS/text messaging, are among the most common applications of mobile devices in the workplace. The vast majority of users who employ a smartphone for work-related uses employ some type of messaging-related application on a regular basis.

There are a number of difficulties associated with the archival of text messaging content. For example:

  • Text messages sent using telecom carriers are often retained only for brief periods, and so these providers cannot be relied upon a source of archived text messages for long periods.
  • Since some companies operate in multiple countries using carriers that often do not provide any sort of text messaging archival service, enterprises often employ different methods to archive text messages, such as doing a physical backup of a device.
  • Further complicating the archival of text messages is the lack of commonality for archiving content depending on the device in use. Some solutions pull content directly from the server (e.g., with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server), while others install an app on the mobile device that transmits text messages to the archive. Other tools, such as SMS Backup+ for Android devices, will move text messages into a user’s Gmail account where they can be backed up or archived indirectly.

The bottom line is that organizations using various and inconsistent methods for archival of text messages makes the process inefficient, expensive and prone to error. The result can be incomplete archives of text messages and the consequences that go along with this level of inconsistency. Therefore, it’s essential to choose the right vendor that can provide a consistent and unified method for text message archival.

We have recently published a white paper on text messaging archiving that you can download here.


Go Ahead and Delete Your Email – See If You Can

Think about the process of sending a single email to one individual:

  1. You create and send an email and a copy of that email is placed into your Sent Items folder (copy 1).
  2. The recipient receives your email (copy 2).
  3. Your email admin makes a nightly backup of your email inbox (copy 3).
  4. The recipient’s admin does likewise (copy 4).
  5. Your company’s archiving system places a copy of your email into archival storage (copy 5).
  6. Ditto for the recipient’s company’s email archiving system (copy 6).
  7. The email you sent to recipient A gets forwarded to someone else (copy 7).
  8. That copy gets placed into a backup and archive (copies 8 and 9).
  9. You, your original recipient and the recipient of the forwarded copy access corporate email on a smartphone and a tablet (copies 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15).

Now, let’s say you decide that you want to delete all of your old email because you’re afraid of incriminating evidence that might turn up in a lawsuit, a regulatory audit, or because you’re running for political office (ahem). Good luck with that. At best, you might be able to delete copy 1 and, if the recipient is nice, copy 2. Copies 3, 4 and 8 might disappear as admins reuse backup tapes over time or as the various mobile devices on which your email is stored deletes older content. But that means that of the 15 or so copies of your email that exist, only about one-third to one-half will ever really disappear.

What should you do? First of all, disabuse yourself of the notion that you can ever completely delete your email. You can’t – it exists and may exist forever in some cases. Second, realize that email will stick around despite your best efforts to purge it, and so plan on it reappearing at some point. That means that if you have incriminating emails floating around your company, it’s best to archive them reliably and prevent their alteration so that at least you have the same evidence that the other side will almost certainly have in a lawsuit or a regulatory audit. While the ideal state is never to have incriminating emails, if you have more than zero employees in your company that’s unlikely to happen.

All of this sounds quite basic, but our work has demonstrated that some are still under the false impression that the process of deleting email actually deletes email. In reality, it does delete email, but only your copies of them – most are still out there somewhere out of your control. The best you can do is ensure that you have copies of your email that you can reliably assume others will also have.