SC Lawyer, March 2005, #6. Dumpster Disasters: tips for ethically retiring your old computers.

AuthorBy Ross L. Kodner and Courtney G. Kennaday

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, March 2005, #6.

Dumpster Disasters: tips for ethically retiring your old computers

South Carolina LawyerMarch 2005Dumpster Disasters: tips for ethically retiring your old computersBy Ross L. Kodner and Courtney G. KennadayIn a regular and predictable ritual, not dissimilar in either frequency or level of irritation to the "Seventeen Year Locusts," your PCs, laptops and network fileservers need replacement. Not that they necessarily wear out, but they are just no longer up to the task of running contemporary software. Sadly, using a three or four year old desktop PC is a lot like driving a car with 800,000 miles on it - it just barely limps along.

So what happens to all those elderly PC systems once you've relegated them to the dustbin of techno.history in your firm or law department? What are your choices? Tossing them in the dumpster seems wasteful, and it is certainly not very environmentally conscious. Much of this equipment is considered hazardous to the environment and must be managed and disposed of in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations. You could try to sell your old computers for a few cents on eBay, or maybe you could donate them to charity.

Any of these choices could cost you your law license.

Why? Because all those old computers are packed with confidential client information - information that you have an ethical duty to protect. Further, the computers undoubtedly have sensitive firm information, as well as software which is licensed to your firm or organization (for which you have very specific obligations under the respective End User License Agreements (EULA)). Giving away control and access to these computers - whether the inappropriate landfill/dumpster approach, the eBay sale, or the well-intended charitable donation - can lead to malpractice claims and ethical violations at worst, and at best, serious embarrassment. And not to ruin your day any further, there could even be potential HIPPA (disclosing employee or client healthcare information) and Sarbanes-Oxley (giving away corporate documents which you must maintain) violation claims. So what should you do?

You need a D.U.M.P. - a Disposal unMalpractice Plan!

The key to a D.U.M.P. is ensuring, to the greatest extent reasonably practicable, that you remove confidential client information, firm or organization information and all licensed software that you do not intend to formally transfer. This means using a technical process that will remove this information in an effective manner, rendering the information as unrecoverable as you can reasonably accomplish. It may not be possible to delete information so that no one could ever recover it. Practically speaking, if someone wants to spend enough money and enough time, they can probably find a way to recover at least some of your data, no matter what you do. But the reality is that the standard...

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