The full impact of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come as a shock to the four-in-ten mid-market companies (250-2,500 employees) in Europe that hold on to almost every record regardless of official retention guidelines, according to leading storage and information management company Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM). In a study undertaken with PwC[i], Iron Mountain found that one in ten (11%) mid-market businesses in the EU retain information without taking into account variable retention and data protection requirements, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify the sensitive information they have no right to hold on to indefinitely.
The study found that most companies are retaining all their information because they want to exploit it for possible future value (89%) or to provide a safety net in what is becoming an increasingly complex regulatory landscape (87%). Many are doing so to ensure they can comply with e-discovery requests (42%). However, with Article 23 of the new GDPR stating that retention periods for all kinds of information – from emails and instant messages to proposals and contracts – need to be factored in from the moment the information is created, the risks and potential penalties associated with an unstructured approach to retention could prove severe. Failure to comply with the incoming legislation could lead to fines of up to 4% of annual global turnover or up to EUR 20 million. The higher of the two figures will apply.
When organisations do not have policy, process and guidance in place, they put themselves at increased risk by leaving decisions to individual employees. A study by global information trade body AIIM[ii] found that more than half (55%) of the companies it surveyed worldwide let employees save or delete emails as they see fit, leaving many businesses unclear and unable to prove whether or not sensitive information had been deleted in line with regulations.
“Knowing what information to hold on to and for how long is complicated for many European organisations, with different rules for different kinds of information in different countries. It is just as risky to hold on to something for too long, such as personal data or unsuccessful job applications, as it is to destroy something too soon, such as email correspondence or health and safety records that might be required for a lawsuit. Unsurprisingly, many companies have responded by simply keeping everything. However, particularly in the case of personally identifiable information, this cannot continue. From 2018, businesses will need to prove that their information is created with a built-in end of life. Achieving this will require organisations large and small to know what they have, where it is, and how long they are entitled to hold on to it. We would advise businesses to seek expert guidance,” said Gavin Siggers, Director of Professional Services for Iron Mountain Europe.
Iron Mountain and PwC found[iii] that businesses older than ten years are the most likely to hoard data (57%), while those that have been operational for less than a decade are more likely to seek expert help to support them with their retention needs: just over a third (35%) say they seek legal advice and act accordingly, while 29% employ a third party to manage their retention policies.
For practical guidance and tips on how to prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation visit: www.ironmountain.co.uk/GDPR
[i] PwC and Iron Mountain, Beyond Good Intentions, http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/Knowledge-Center/Reference-Library/View-by-Document-Type/White-Papers-Briefs/1/2014-PwC-Reports.aspx
[ii] Information Governance – records, risks and retention in the litigation age, AIM Industry Watch, 2013
[iii] PwC and Iron Mountain, Beyond Awareness: the Growing Urgency for Data Management in the European Mid-market, can be found at http://ironmountain.co.uk/Risk-Management/ .