Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

Digital Don’ts

October 4, 2010

The upcoming email management information session will focus on ways to use Outlook to manage your email.  But what about cutting down on the amount of email you send?  A recent article from Law Technology News talks about the 5 things you should never put in an email.  Although this article is litigation-focused, the tips they give are useful guidelines for anyone who sends email as part of his or her job.  Tips such as “do not email when angry” seem to be common sense but the fact that the authors are able to highlight multiple real-life examples for each of the 5 tips says otherwise.

While the article about email talks about records you don’t want to create in the first please, NPR’s Talk of the Nation recently conducted an interview with a recording expert to talk about records you want to keep.  If your office has ever thought about burning your files to CDs as a way to back them up or increase storage space then this article is a must-read!  The joke in the digital preservation world is that a CD-R or a DVD-R will last 5 years or forever, whichever comes first.  Although this interviewee extends that lifespan to 10 years it’s still not the permanent preservation that many people hope for.  They go on to talk about ways to preserve those digital records that will help extend their accessible years.  Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) and various types of back-ups are just some of the topics they touch on.  And while interviewee’s expertise is in sound recording everything he says about digital records is applicable to any file format you can burn to a CD.

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The Hazards of Portable Information

August 18, 2010

Laptops and flash drives make our lives easier in that they allow us to move information, files, and data from one place to another.  However, they open up a whole batch of security issues in terms of who could have access to the information stored on them.

Take, for example, these two incidents in Oregon detailed in an article in SC Magazine.  In one case a psychologist’s laptop was stolen from his car.  The laptop, which had a non-password protected CD in the disc drive, contained information on his patients that is protected by HIPAA as well as names and Social Security Numbers.

In the other case, an employee of Portland Community College was using a flash drive to transfer data between two different campuses when the bag it was in was stolen out of the car.  The flash drive (also known as a thumb drive) contained personal information, including Social Security Numbers, for people participating in a community college sponsored program for unemployed Oregon residents.

I get asked every so often about the feasibility of backing up data to a flash drive.  My answer is always that you can but that you probably shouldn’t.  The second story in the news article is a great example of why.  Flash drives are cheap and easy to transport and, as such, are easy to misplace, steal, or forget about entirely.  If you need to back up your files or data or need to transport it from one place to another, discuss your options with IS.  They’re bound to have a more secure way to do it.

And if you find yourself taking your work home on your laptop, take a second to think about what kind of information you have on there.  Personnel data?  Student grade information?  If the files on your laptop contain any data classified as Internal Restricted Data or Highly Sensitive Data as defined by University Policy then I suggest you take precautions to make sure your laptop stays as secure as possible.  And don’t leave it in your car.

The Good and the Bad….Where’s the Ugly?

April 27, 2010

This week’s news brought two interesting stories of how two different types of university records can have  dramatically different impacts on a university.

Ever think about all those records we have to keep in order to account for all the money we get from various donors?  I’m sure that our Advancement department does.   And I’m sure they would love to be offered $30 million dollars!  Well, that’s exactly what happened at New York University except that they claim they decided to turn it down.  Yet, what this story brought to light was a lack of original documentation and reports filed by various New York universities regarding donations from foreign donors.    Is this a lack of proper retention on the part of the universities or on the part of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Higher Education?  Regardless of who is the responsible department for these records, it’s obvious that they should have been kept, organized, and made more accessible.  And, hey, that’s what records management helps you do!

On a more positive note, the blog of the Special Collections and Archives at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut highlighted an interesting piece of their collection recently: the Young Men’s Republican Club of Wesleyan Club Constitution and Meeting Minutes from 1856!  The post’s author writes about how the current students can benefit from how students of the past approached politics and elections.  It’s a fascinating bit of history with current applications that no one would have ever known about if these records had not been placed in the university’s archives.    Currently DePaul’s Records Retention Schedule indicates that meeting minutes from the Student Government Association (Record Group 1.8) as well as student organization materials (Record Group 11.20) should be transferred to the University Archives.  If you’re involved with student organizations in any way, keep those Records Groups as well as the Archives in mind as your group creates minutes, advertisements, photographs, or any other record of its activities.  Maybe in another 150+ years someone else will use them to draw parallels between current students and students of the past.

Records Management at Home

March 30, 2010

We spend most of our time talking about the proper management, retention, and disposition of university records, but records management also has a place outside of work.  You know that overstuffed file cabinet or that old computer you have at home?  Records management can  help you tackle them as well!

Jennifer Saranow Schultz of the New York Times recently wrote an article titled “Retain Your Records No Longer Than You Must”.  She consulted with people in the financial, medical, and privacy rights industries to get some guidelines on how long to keep tax forms, utility bills, Explanation of Benefits from the insurance company, as well as many other documents most people have at home.

The answers she got may surprise you.  Utility bills?  Well, unless you need them for tax deduction purposes, there’s no reason you need to keep them once you get the next bill that confirms you paid the previous one.  Do you have piles of bank statements?  Again, unless you need them to prove income they really only need to be retained as long as your bank allows you to challenge any inconsistencies or errors.  Review them on a regular basis and contact the bank right away if there are any errors.  Otherwise, the experts Saranow Schultz interviewed recommended only keeping them for a year.

And everyone knows that tax records need to be kept for seven years, right?  Well, actually, that’s not entirely true.

The IRS does have 3 years after date of filing “or date of payment” to audit your tax return.   However, by statute there is a finite list of exceptions to the 3 year time frame. These include:

  • False Return – Tax may be assessed at any time, without limitation.
  • Willful attempt to avoid tax – Tax may be assessed at any time, without limitation.
  • No return – Tax may be assessed at any time, without limitation.
  • Extension by Agreement – Assessment period defined by agreement between IRS and taxpayer.
  • Tax resulting from changes in certain income or estate tax credits – No timeframe defined.
  • Tax resulting form distributions or terminations from a life insurance company – 3 years
  • Termination of private foundation status – Tax may be assessed at any time, without limitation.
  • Substantial omission of items (generally defined as over/under reporting of income by 25%) – 6 years.

These Limitations of Assessment and Collection are defined in federal law. For more information,  see 26 USC 6501.

It’s typically that last bullet point that people use to invoke the seven year retention period.  The year of filing plus six years just in case you forgot a huge chunk of your income.  But for most people, 3 years should be sufficient for all the documentation used to prepare their taxes.  Although Saranow Schultz’s experts suggest keeping the actual tax return forms permanently.

So, while there are some records that experts suggest keeping permanently (legal decision paperwork and wills to name two), most records in your house could safely be disposed of after a limited period of time.  And regardless of how long you keep them, remember to store them in a safe place.  Avoid keeping them online or in email and remember to periodically check to make sure you can still access the information on that old computer.  If you can no  longer open the file then keeping it isn’t doing you much good.