The destruction process

There are five steps to be observed when destroying a public sector organisation's records:

  • establish that there is a current and authorised records disposal schedule covering the records
  • sentence the records by assessing and identifying records which match the classes of records described in the disposal schedule and assigning the disposal action
  • obtain approval from record owner to destroy records identified as due for destruction
  • destroy the records securely
  • ensure the destruction of the records has been clearly documented and captured in a records management system.

Is there a disposal schedule covering the records?

The first step in the destruction process is to establish whether there is a current and authorised disposal schedule covering the records in question.

Records of short-term value should be destroyed in accordance with the Disposal Schedule for records of Short Term Value.

In the Northern Territory there are two types of disposal schedules:

  • General Records Disposal Schedules that apply to records common to most or all public sector organisations
  • Functional Records Disposal Schedules that apply to records specific to a public sector organisation or function.

Disposal schedule retention decisions are based on:

  • compliance with legal and governance requirements of the organisation
  • analysis of current and future business needs of the organisation
  • analysis of current and future needs of internal and external stakeholders, including the wider community.

If no disposal schedule exists, the organisation responsible for the records is required to develop a disposal schedule following the Guideline for the development of a functional records disposal schedule

Sentencing

An organisation should ensure that staff carrying out sentencing activities have adequate training to correctly identify and classify records.

Sentencing is the process of applying the provisions of a records disposal schedule to an organisation's records. This is done by determining which class of records in the disposal schedule applies to an organisation’s records, then assigning the disposal action specified in the schedule to the matching records.

A minimum retention period is assigned to records which cannot be destroyed before this minimum retention period has elapsed, however records may be kept beyond this minimum period if required.

The sentencing process includes identifying records which are not to be destroyed. These records include pre-1978 records, permanent records, records which are subject to a disposal freeze or legal hold, and records deemed to be of continuing administrative or business value.

Authorisation of destruction

An organisation must ensure that sentencing decisions are reviewed and approved by an appropriate officer. Records which have been sentenced and found to be due for destruction require final approval from the business unit responsible for those records, before destruction can take place.

This final authorisation can be in the form of a memorandum, or other organisational documentation, which identifies the records to be destroyed and includes the name and position of the officer approving the destruction. Authorisations must be retained in a records management system.

It is at this stage of the disposal process where a business unit may identify records which are still required for business or other purposes and which are not to be destroyed. Identified records are excluded from destruction, with relevant documentation being updated to reflect this.

Secure destruction of records

Records must always be destroyed in a secure manner, with privacy and confidentiality being maintained through the whole disposal process.

Destruction of records which are sensitive or security classified must be supervised by an officer of the agency with an equivalent or higher security clearance than the records being destroyed.

Where an external contractor is used to destroy the records, the supervising officer must escort records during transit and witness destruction. Destruction should be performed immediately after records arrive at the contractor site.

A certificate of destruction should be obtained and kept with the related approval and disposal documentation as proof of records destruction.

Methods of destruction

In keeping with today's environmental practices, all records should be destroyed in an environmentally friendly manner whenever possible.

Paper

The recommended method of paper destruction is shredding with a cross-cut shredder.

Shredders which cut on only one axis, generating thin strips of paper, are not appropriate for the destruction of sensitive or security classified records.

Direct pulping of paper records is an accepted method of destruction, with paper pulp usually being recycled.

Electronic records and other media

Destruction of digitally stored records should follow the NT Government ICT Media Destruction Standard. This standard also covers records held on microform media.

Inappropriate destruction methods

The following methods should not be used as a means of record destruction.

  • Deletion: simply deleting records from a hard drive or USB device does not permanently erase them and they can easily be restored for some time after deletion.
  • Dumping: dumping of records is an offence under s 145 of the Information Act 2002 and is not an accepted form of records disposal or destruction.
  • Burying: records can be uncovered after burial, with security being compromised.
  • Burning: though this is an accepted method of records destruction, burning records causes unnecessary environmental pollution.

Documenting the destruction of records

The destruction of a public sector organisation's records needs to be clearly documented and captured in a records management system.

Evidence of the destruction of records must be retained by the organisation. At a minimum, this must include the following information:

  • unique record identifier
  • the number and version of the approved disposal schedule
  • disposal class reference
  • date of disposal
  • authorising officer name and position.

A certificate or other evidence of destruction should be kept together with all other destruction documentation in a records management system. The destruction certification should note:

  • description of records
  • date of destruction
  • method of destruction
  • individual performing/supervising destruction.

An organisation should ensure that all sentencing and disposal decisions are recorded and retained by the agency, with the fate of every record being documented

Note:The requirement to forward Notices of Destruction to the Records Service ceased in November 2019. Disposal schedules numbered up to 2020/6 contain instructions relating to the ceased Notification of Destruction procedure. These instructions are now redundant and need to be ignored.

Use of contractors

All contractors need to be adequately vetted before being granted access to any records.

Officers liaising with a contractor must have sufficient knowledge of the organisation's functions and procedures to provide guidance in the sentencing, approval, and destruction processes and their proper documentation. The liaising officer must have an equivalent or higher security clearance than the records being handled by the contractor.

Handling of sensitive and security classified records by a contractor must be supervised by an officer of the organisation.

A certificate of destruction should be obtained from the contractor and kept together with other documentation related to the destroyed records. All relevant documentation is to be retained by the agency, not the contractor.

Last updated: 02 March 2020

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