“Your personal data is like toothpaste; once they squeeze it out of you, it’s impossible to get it back where it belongs.”
Karen Metz, President/Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist at Keystone Mobile Shredding, Inc./Keystone Document Solutions, Inc.
Think about it…you are asked for your personal information almost everywhere you go from appointments to shopping trips. It’s difficult to make a simple transaction without having to give your zip code, phone number or rewards card. Everyone wants you to join their “shoppers club “or download their app so they can track your spending habits, target their advertising efforts, and sell your data to marketing groups.
You can’t even browse the government website to shop for health insurance without first giving up your personal information, which is immediately made available to insurance companies. The sales calls will begin even before you close out the health insurance website and they are relentless and annoying.
As a business, the more information you collect, the more risk you take to keep it secure and dispose of it properly. Recently, there was a local child day care building that had been vacant for two years. It was surprising to find that the previous building owner had left a file cabinet full of children’s records in the building. The realtors and perspective buyers all had access to view, steal, or mishandle the confidential information of those past day care clients and their parents. The sad part is that these families had no idea that their personal information was treated so casually and not protected or disposed of properly when the business closed.
How are you collecting and protecting the data of your patients, clients, customers, vendors, associates and employees? The United States does not have just a single regulation to govern how information is collected, used, stored and protected. It has given the individual states more responsibility to provide data protection regulation.
However, the Federal government recognized the need to defend privacy in 1934 under the Social Security Act. The Act stated that there was a legal obligation to prevent unauthorized access to a citizen’s Social Security number and the crime was punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. At that time, social security numbers were meant only to identity persons enrolled in the social insurance program. The number has since become the single most important personal identifier and is used in banking, credit monitoring, driver’s licenses, college admittance, medical identification, and employment. Due to its vast use, and the onset of computers and data collection, social security numbers have become widely available and often misused.
The Privacy Act of 1974 was the next large piece of federal government regulation aimed at safeguarding individual data that the federal government collected on its citizens.
By the 1990’s, it was clear that the electronic collection and data bases were making it much easier to have access to the personal information of large groups of people. Identity theft became a federal crime on October 30, l998 through the enactment of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. The Act states that identity theft occurs when a person “knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.”
During this same time period, the government enacted HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in 1996 and its five rules: Privacy Rule, Transaction and Code Sets Rule, Security Rule, Unique Identifiers Rule, and Enforcement Rule. HIPAA made health insurance portable and transferable after and between employment and managed the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Later in 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) was enacted. HITECH allowed States Attorneys Generals to enforce HIPAA and made data breach notification mandatory.
Whether your records are medical, industrial, accounting, legal, retail, employment, or scholastic, you need to secure and protect them as business assets. Streamline your office by switching to an electronic format as an efficient way to consolidate and protect your day to day business and legacy records. Paper will eventually deteriorate and is costly to store. Your business can certainly benefit from eliminating file boxes especially those that have been kept long beyond their retention schedule requirements. If you are involved in a legal audit, you may regret that you kept years of unnecessary records that now can be searched and accessed as evidence.
Paper, copiers, printers, and filing cabinets are standard ingredients of your typical office. Employees expect staples, paper cuts, and searching through folders of documents to be part of their job. On a yearly basis, a United States office worker will use 10,000 sheets of copy paper (EPA), revealing that we are far from being “green” or “going paperless”. The benefits of becoming a digital office could outweigh the seemingly high costs of altering business processes, re-training employees, and adjusting to the new electronic technology.
Consider the present situation of most offices: important information is often printed or copied, and then stored in a filing cabinet for later access, or at least until the business is legally permitted to destroy the record. It is estimated that one third of all printed documents are never used or needed (PricewaterhouseCoopers Survey). When records need to be accessed, office employees will spend up to 20% of their time searching for or filing paper documents. According to the same study, 1 out of every 20 documents becomes lost in the shuffle of paperwork, and re-making a document can require up to 25 hours and $300. Difficulties associated with finding, sharing, storing, and retrieving documents waste hours of employee time in which they could have been focused on more productive tasks. These losses in efficiency have high costs year after year, but even those pale in comparison to the risks of losing important paper records in a security breach or a natural disaster.
Converting to digital record storage may sound intimidating, but it can eliminate many office headaches and save costs in the long run. Partnering with a document management business that specializes in security and customer service can be a great solution. High-resolution scanners can create clear images of paper documents, and indexing systems can allow documents to be quickly and accurately searched and shared on a computer. The cost and space required to store documents can be regained, and office procedures can become more efficient and productive. Employees will enjoy fewer frustrations from dealing with paper records, and businesses will find it easier to comply with industry regulations regarding record storage. Digital storage options protect paper documents from theft and natural disasters, and they provide increased security and control of employee access to sensitive information than traditional cabinet or box storage. It may not be realistic to completely eliminate paper from the office yet, but digitizing record storage is a worthwhile investment for business efficiency, employee welfare, information security, and a business owner’s peace of mind. It can also add value to your business when it’s time to think about an exit strategy or retirement plan. Who wants to move 100 file boxes when you can simply hand over a thumb drive that contains the same information?
If you have questions about service or need a quote,
Brenda Gair at Keystone Document Solutions
(570-323-8066) firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our websites at: