Not only is there nothing wrong with destroying documents as a matter of course, everybody should be routinely destroying documents and other data they don’t really need. See Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696, 704 (2005) (noting that “document retention policies”—which are technically also document destruction policies, but don’t call yours that—are “common” and “not wrongful”). You may have a duty to preserve stuff that’s relevant to pending or threatened litigation, or stuff the government requires you to keep (like certain tax records). But there’s a lot of stuff that should go up in flames that doesn’t. Or shred it instead of burning it. That’s also fine.
Not fine: hiring a chicken farm to do it.
According to CBC News, officials learned that a nursing home north of Saskatoon (it’s in Dalmeny, but I like saying “Saskatoon”) had hired an “undisclosed chicken farm” to destroy confidential health records that contained sensitive information about its residents. (The home’s residents, not the farm’s.) Officials were investigating the home because some health records had been found in a recycling bin, which is also not a place they are supposed to go. In the course of that investigation, they came across the contract with the farm.
In the contract, the farm agreed “to accept full responsibility to maintain the security and confidentiality of all documents” it received from the home, although the contract didn’t specify how the farm would do this. That alone makes the arrangement “unacceptable,” said Ron Kruzeniski, Saskatchewan’s privacy and information commissioner, in a report he issued on the matter recently.
The report is maddeningly silent on what the farm’s plan, if any, actually was. Did the farm have its own, industrial-size shredder? If so, why? If not, were the chickens supposed to do it? If so, how?I will cut the commissioner some slack on that one, though, because he did include the contract itself, with redactions that I found comical. It read as follows:
May 14, 2012
RE: SHREDDING OF CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS
I, [name of chicken farm owner/operator], on the behalf of [name of chicken farm], hereby agree to accept full responsibility to maintain the security and confidentiality of all documents received from Spruce Manor Special Care Home, from the moment they are received and throughout the process of being transported, and/or stored in my/our care, and to ensure that all the documents are shredded in a timely manner and in such a manner that they are irretrievable.
[signature of chicken farm owner/operator]
[name of chicken farm owner/operator]
[name of chicken farm]
Spruce Manor Special Care hereby entrusts [name of chicken farm] with the care and destruction of all sensitive documents that [are] designated for shredding. Spruce Manor Special Care Home retains full responsibility for all documents within its care up to the point that they are securely received by the owners and/or staff of [name of chicken farm].
[signature of former Administrator]
[former Administrator’s name]
Spruce Manor Special Care Home
“I recommend that Spruce Manor Special Care home no longer use [a] chicken farm to destroy records,” the commissioner concluded, and that is my advice to you as well.
(Main photo credit: Woodley Wonderworks on Flickr)