Technology is changing at a rapid rate. The computers we use in business are decreasing in cost and increasing in speed and storage capacity. It's often easier and less expensive to just replace old equipment. It’s not unusual for a law firm to be replacing computers as often as every 2-3 years just to keep up with the pace of business and the explosion of data to be managed.
Of course, this means a firm will be faced with the prospect of disposing of the old devices on a regular basis. For large firms where each attorney has a laptop or desktop computer (or both), plus a cell phone, managing electronic waste (e-waste) can be a big job.
Why Responsibly Recycling Electronics is Important
What’s a firm to do when it’s time to replace all those sluggish and outdated computers? Electronic waste cannot be just dumped into the landfill for two very good reasons. The first reason is that putting electronics in the landfill is bad for the environment, human health and in some places, it’s against the law. E-waste is toxic to both the environment and to humans.
There is no need to fill landfills with electronics. Every part of the computer can be torn down and recycled, including some precious metals that can be extracted and reused. It’s much better for the environment, and in many cases more economical to extract and reuse materials, than it is to mine them or manufacture them newly.
The second reason not to just discard used electronics, and of high importance to attorneys, is to protect the confidential client records contained in any device used by the firm. The Federal Trade Commission's Disposal Rule ( 16 CFR Part 682) passed on June 1, 2005, says that companies disposing of computer equipment need to take steps necessary to remove personal or financial information from the machines.
Just as attorneys shred paper records before discarding them to maintain client confidentiality, they must now address how they will dispose of digital data before discarding devices like computers, tablets and phones to maintain confidentiality. It’s not as easy as hitting the delete button. Completely eliminating confidential data on devices cannot be accomplished by wiping, writing over or erasing a computer’s drives or other storage media. Data on intact drives can still be accessed by professionals, leaving confidential information at risk of being stolen.
How to Manage an Electronics Recycling Program
Responsible recycling of electronics for law firms means using a reputable vendor that will certify that data has been completely destroyed by thoroughly and completely destroying (shredding) hard drives and other data storage media. The only way to assure that no data can be retrieved is to shred the data storage device.
The process for hard drive destruction used by a reputable electronics recycling company should included logging the serial number of each item that it receives, tracking the devices through the shredding process and providing a certification of destruction to the customer.
Cell phones are another device that can contain sensitive client information. Attorneys at some firms are responsible for purchasing their own cell phones. However, if the lawyers use their phones for work, their firm’s policy is typically to require the devices to be encrypted and to be able to wipe them remotely if they are ever lost or stolen.
Although it’s a common practice today for attorneys to rely on one cellphone for both professional and personal use, there is a trend that the former practice of having two separate phones is returning. Namely, clients — particularly large banks — are beginning to question whether their lawyers should have a cellphone dedicated solely to business rather than mingling work and social activities on one. Then, should the attorney move to a different employer, the law firm can keep the cellphone and ensure the data it holds is safe.
Like computers, old and discarded cell phones can be recycled to reclaim the metals and other materials, and any memory devices can be destroyed.
If you’re the one responsible for purchasing and disposing of your law firm’s digital assets we recommend you have a Digital Asset Management Plan that includes policies and procedures to protect data and responsibly discard devices that are no longer functional. As part of such a plan, we recommend developing an ongoing relationship with a reputable electronics recycler that will help you manage your out of date assets and provide the certificates of destruction you’ll need for peace of mind and compliance with the law.
Mayer Metals Corporation is a Certified Woman-Owned Business with over 50 years in the metal and recycling industry. Our business is focused on Responsibly Recycling of Electronic Waste, Scrap Metal Recycling and providing finished metals for manufacturing and assembly.
Learn More about Electronic Waste Recycling: Get our Ultimate Guide to Corporate Electronic Recycling: