Computers are decreasing in cost and increasing in speed and storage capacity. It's often easier and less expensive to replace old equipment. This means that, at some point, an attorney will be faced with the prospect of disposing of computer equipment. The passage of the Federal Trade Commission's Disposal Rule ( 16 CFR Part 682) 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. No one wants their personal information to fall into the wrong hands, but attorneys must also consider the privacy of their client's information. In addition to business issues involving computers, there are also environmental concerns as some areas are increasing regulation covering computer waste.
The hard drive is the most sensitive component of a computer because it contains all of the computer's programs and files.The surest way to prevent information on the hard drive from falling into the wrong hands is to remove it entirely from the computer. This way the outside shell of the computer can be thrown out but the sensitive information can be retained. The hard drive should be labeled with information such as which computer it came from, the date, and, if known, what types of programs or operating systems it was using. Then the hard drive should be stored in a safe place similar to any other sensitive document.
Some non-profit organizations will accept computers as donations. However, if your machine is more than five years old it most likely too costly to upgrade and, therefore, would not be appropriate for donation.
If you do not want to take the computer apart to get to the hard drive, there are programs that will wipe the hard drive clean of any data. These programs are generally not guaranteed to remove all data so you will need to follow their directions and may also need to run the program multiple times. Please remember that once you start running a hard drive wiping program, you will not be able to recover your data. You can burn a cd backup of all of your data or work with your IT staff or consultant to make a mirror of your hard drive. If you work in an office that has a server you should go through your computer files to make sure the most vital files are saved to the network drive and not to the hard drive on your computer. In order to avoid interrupting business, you will probably want to have your new computer up and running for a few days prior to any reformatting of an old machine.
Free programs are available on the Internet that will wipe the data from your hard drive prior to disposal. As a caveat, most free or shareware programs do not provide technical support.
The following programs cost money. Many are available for purchase on the internet so you can download the program to your computer for immediate use.
Recycling Your Computer
- ABA " Ethics and Technology: How NOT to Commit Malpractice with Your Computer"
- An audio program compiled by the ABA covers many issues faced by attorneys using technology, including disposing of equipment.
- ABA GP Solo - SoloSez Discussion: Computer Disposal
- CIO - "When the Bits Bite the Dust
- HP Study that surveyed executives about computer disposal - September 22, 2005 press release
- Law.com "Responsible e-Waste Disposal"
- Law Technology News " Give Away Your Old Computer" (July 2005)
- Microsoft " Tips for Donating a Computer"
- TechSoup " Ten Tips for Donating a Computer: How to Donate Your Old PC"