The advantages of digital preservation of paper-based documents via document conversion are well recognized and accepted today. Records in digital format are easier to preserve, backup, organize, and share and significantly reduce physical storage space requirements. The concept of digitization is gaining importance not only due to these ensured advantages but also due to the need for the long-term preservation and security of critical documents.
Retention periods that are prescribed by various regulatory bodies apply to the information contained in records regardless of the medium – paper, microfilm, or electronic. In fact, record retention and secure data storage requirements are growing with the increased use of electronic records and growing maze of laws, rules and regulations. For example, U.S. federal regulations require that employers store employee personnel files for one year, some for five years, some for 30 years, and some indefinitely. Other regulatory bodies too have stringent records retention security requirements with a wide range of penalties for destroying protected records.
Financial, healthcare, internet service providers, and telecommunications are some of the industries noticeably subject to security and retention regulations. Penalties for violation of these regulations range from warning letters to multi-million-dollar fines, prison sentences, and business closure. One of the major challenges involved in secure and confidential storage of records is that many companies do not have adequate facilities for long-term document storage.
Ensuring Document Security
Documents can take the form of paper records, digital records, and electronic records. Electronic records include word processor documents, spreadsheets, databases, HTML documents, scanned or imaged documents, and any other type of file stored online on a mainframe, a computer hard drive, or on any external storage medium. Proper records management plan and procedures are essential for
- determining the security of the information stored
- determining the length of time for which they must retain specific types of information
- implementing archiving systems that can ensure compliance with record regulations
Paper records scanned and converted to digital format can make them easily and securely storable. The various aspects of safe storage include
- Encryption: This is a proven method of data protection. Encrypting data transforms it in a way that it becomes undecipherable to all except authorized users who have the encryption key.
- Data cleansing: All data systems should be cleansed to ensure that only accurate records are stored
- User authentication and authorization: The storage system should have strong user authentication and authorization to ensure confidentiality
- Barcode tracking: This involves indexing and inventorying documents, and placing them in storage boxes with barcodes attached. These barcodes are scanned throughout the storage process, allowing users to easily track their documents and manage access to them, ensuring full security and confidentiality
Records should be retained as per the retention schedule laid down by the authorities. Records for retention should fall under the three basic categories, archival records (permanent), non-permanent records requiring retention for legal or audit purposes, and routine administrative records. At the end of the appropriate retention period, inactive records, including transaction records, inactive agreements and other non-permanent records should be destroyed according to the applicable schedule.