What's Stored on Your Copier's Hard Drive Can and Will Be Used Against You

Interesting blog post from my colleague Mark McCreary on his Privacy Compliance and Data Security blog last week. In it, he examines this story from CBS News concerning the dangers of disposing of digital copiers without first “wiping” their hard drives to delete stored information. CBS reported purchasing used copiers with stored images of materials from police files, design plans for a building near Ground Zero, and yes, medical records. The story was a major embarrassment for the Buffalo, NY police department and prompted a letter from Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts to the FTC requesting action. The FTC response promises action, but does not suggest that additional regulation is likely.

As Mark suggests, it would be easy to go overboard reacting to this news. It seems as unlikely that the purchaser of your business’ used equipment is going to interested in searching through its hard drive as it is that someone will be searching through your company’s trash. But the stakes can be high, and just as one should require employees to take the time to shred sensitive paper documents before throwing them away, one should be certain that before copiers, computers, or any data storage devices are sold or discarded, they are wiped clean of any stored data.

From a litigator's perspective, this news is both inspiring and depressing.  It inspires me to consider seeking forensic examination of copier hard drives in cases involving trade secret theft, copyright infringement of printed materials, or suspected spoliation of evidence. It depresses me to think that we may soon be adding copier hard drives to the reams of largely useless electronic data the rules require us search when responding to discovery requests.