Shredding for our future: a history of man’s struggle to create and destroy

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

They say that man is the animal that creates. I say that man is the animal that can create and will destroy. And sometimes a creation’s purpose could be destruction. This is the case with shredding machines.

The year was 2.560 B.C. when man in his desperate search for means of expression created papyrus. Before that his irresistible urge to express himself manifested mostly on cave walls or clay tablets or other difficult to impossible to shred mediums. Papyrus changed all of that. [1]

With the invention of papyrus, man felt for the first time in history the need to rip into pieces something that he created to imprint certain information. Why? Because for the first time in history, man could do it; Papyrus made possible such action.

This first papyrus shred to pieces could be of a painting or a poem gone horribly wrong. Or of symbols that articulated emotions or desires for the future. It could be a list of financial assets or a text of religious significance. The owner of the papyrus could have destroyed it. Or maybe it was a thief. Or it might even be a jealous wife or a loyal servant. We don’t know why or who did it but we can be certain that someone took the decision to destroy. There could be a reason for doing it or there could be no specific reason at all but it was done by someone.

And after the first man, there were many more that followed a similar course of action because they could do it. The Chinese discovered paper [2], and as centuries passed, humans kept finding new reasons to destroy.

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Gutenberg [3] discovered the printing machine and the mass paper media was born. Reading was not anymore a privilege of the aristocracy.

In 1806 a man called Henry Fourdinier created the Fourdinier machine. These were steam-driven papermaking machines that could make paper with fibres from wood pulp. Great quantities of paper could be made in great speed. [4]

By the 20th century paper was an everyday commodity, part of every human activity. Common people used it, companies used it, and government agencies used it too.

And then, in 1909, almost 6.000 years after the invention of papyrus, 103 years after the creation of the Fourdinier machine, a man from the United Stated of America called Abbot Augustus Low had a simple but glorious idea. In a world dominated by paper, he had a simple idea. He thought: “What if I created a machine that shreds paper?” And thus, he filed a patent for what he called a “waste – paper receptable”. The first shredding machine came into existence. A creation meant to destroy. It could change the course of history. It did!

Papermaking machine

Papermaking machine

According to him, his invention related “to the provision of improved means for disposing of waste paper and is designed more particularly for use in offices and other places where not only the collection and storage of waste paper is desirable, but also its cancellation or mutilation in such manner as to render it unavailable or unintelligible for re-use or for information”.

The invention consisted “of a receptacle having a cutting or cancelling device interposed between it and a receiving hopper, whereby the papers are disintegrated and rendered useless as such before they enter the body of the receptacle, in which latter the fragments are stored temporarily in a suitable bag to be removed from time to time for the disposition of the waste”.

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Augustus didn’t just invent the device but knew of the advantages it could hold for banks and other organizations “where the practical destruction of correspondence, memoranda, liquidated bonds, accounts, books, and the like is a desideratum […] since the particles of paper are useless for identification, information, or fraudulent purposes of any character” [5]

However, not many sh(a)red his enthusiasm. And as it is often the case with all those we come to admire as genius, it took society quite a long time to understand the necessity of such a device. [6]

In reality, there was no demand for a paper shredder; no market. And how could there be such a demand when most of the people didn’t feel the need to shred their documents using a device. And while it was probable that US intelligence agencies might have understood its importance the simple fact is that the concept of identity theft or data protection was not very common; not common enough for the “common people”. [7]

Now, all this has changed. In the 21st century, “information destruction” is a multi-billion business and shredding machines are at the centre of it.

Shredding machines have evolved and are becoming more and more sophisticated. They will destroy from paper to DVDs and CDS or hard drives. Anything that can hold data of any kind can be destroyed and recycled. [8]

Shredding Machine

Shredding Machine

Everyone is using them. From small offices to big corporations, from government agencies, to schools and hospitals; in some countries it has become a requirement of the law to shred specific documents using shredding machines. [9]

Companies make shredding machines and sell them. Other companies are going mobile, arriving at an organization’s premises with trucks equipped with machines that chew and spit piles of paper. They destroy data that are not meant to be seen by the general public, data that should not fall in the wrong hands. Doctors, spies, everyone uses them.

From the papyrus to the computer and the world of internet, creation goes hand in hand with destruction. In reality, evolution was also the evolution of the means of destruction; they seem somehow interrelated, as if they complement each other. It is human somehow. This is how we evolve; this is how we express ourselves more effectively. We create paper to destroy it; we share information to delete it; we decide what to keep; we shred for our future. We evolve.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ts%27ai_Lun
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fourdrinier
  5. http://www.google.com/patents/US929960?dq=ininventor:%22ABBOT+AUGUSTUS+LOW%22
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbot_Augustus_Low
  7. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/06/26/declassified-govt-report-details-decades-nsa-computer-spying/
  8. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding
  9. http://www.cpni.gov.uk/Documents/Publications/2013/2013062-secure-destruction-sensitive-information.pdf
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Preserving Digitally the World’s Historical Sites

Non-profit organization CyArk has launched a very ambitious and essential project. The group aims to digitally preserve the world’s most spectacular historical sites. It will create 3D backups of historical sites in a project that aims to… eternity!

Read More..

Winners write history: from Hosni Mubarak’s regime, to the Stasi and the Nazis, a history of shredding

 Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sometimes I wonder, how much do we really know about past events?

It was Winston Churchill  who said: “History will be kind to me for I intent to write it”.

Yes, history was kind to him. He was among the protagonists of a world war that had cost the lives of many millions of innocent people. He, as a part of the winning side, made history. And history is favorable to the winners. They write it.

Different accounts can come to dominate in different periods of time or in different societies; depending on how free a society is, these accounts can be more or less accurate to the events in question.

Power struggles within societies can question the present social order. New agendas would rise that could question old dominant discourses and thus lead to a retelling of historical events bringing forward accounts, events and details that had been cast aside. It has happened before. [1]

But history cannot be objective. It is the story as it is told by the winners. It doesn’t have to be the “truth”. The truth is that half of the “facts” we think we know are merely fictions, pieces put together to create convenient and powerful stories; myths that support a certain scheme of things, a dominant power/knowledge system. [2] From what we have been taught in schools to the everyday news we read in the newspapers or the live coverage of important events on our television screens: all past is history, all present is history as well..

We can’t avoid it. We cannot avoid or dismiss history; choices of what should be kept and what we should forget. And yet, history is always on the making. And sometimes winners will become losers. History will be rewritten. Then, as regimes fall, and the dominant discourse and its surrounding myths collapse all kinds of evidence can rise into the surface; facts of the real nature of regimes that would otherwise be forgotten or would exist just for the eyes of the privileged few.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens and activists.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens.

This is the case with Egypt. On March the 5th of 2011 thousands of Egyptians stormed the headquarters of the State Security Police known as Amn Al – Dawla. Among the people of Egypt this is the “Capital of Hell”. They wanted to halt any effort by allies of the ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to destroy police and intelligence documents of great value. Demonstrators succeeded to get hold of thousands of records providing evidence that there was a wide-reaching campaign of surveillance, torture and secret detention. Evidence was found that proved that media owners were on the payroll of the secret police. Documents existed that described extreme violations of human rights. However, protestors also found mountains of shredded or burned documents on the spot. [3]

In East Germany, during the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 – a series of political demonstrations against the regime of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) – Stasi’s offices were stormed by protesters. Stazi existed almost for 40 years. But the amount of agents and informers was such that the files they amassed had filled more than 60 miles of shelving. They had huge special shredding machines that could shred hundreds of meters of files. They worked day and night for more than three months. At the end, when they finally abandoned their posts, more than 16.000 sacks of shredded files were found which accounts just for 5% of the most important documents.

According to Karina Juengert – an archivist who has devoted her life in piecing together shredded documents of her nation’s past – the effort to reconstruct those destroyed documents is an effort to reconstruct a nation’s “shredded” history: “Nobody is going to spend time and energy tearing up documents that have no importance. So the work we are doing is, yes, of absolute importance“. [4]

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

In Nazi Germany they did not have nowadays technology of paper shredders. If they had, so many of the evidence of what the Third Reich had done or did plan to do would have been lost. With no evidence of the events many war criminals would have walked away free still advocating their ideas of hatred, denying the horror of their actions. Yes, it is true, neo-nazis still deny the Holocaust, and the existence of death camps, the experiments on humans, the millions of deaths. But if documents were shredded, the victory of the Allied forces would not be so clear. Without evidence, history would have been more kind to the Nazis. Even nowadays, they try to rewrite history by destroying documents; assistance comes from unexpected places.  [5] 

History is connected with documents. And there are times when the most secure thing to do is to shred them before they are used for harmful purposes. You know, it doesn’t have to be regimes or secret agencies. This is also the case with companies or organizations, public or private, which deal with credit reports or other documents containing sensitive consumer information such as patients’ records. [6]

Documents of this nature are a vital part of the personal history of individuals that no agency or company should keep copies off. Information of this kind in the wrong hands can be used to blackmail or to deny access to services, they can even prove valuable for identity theft purposes. [7] In that sense, shredding is a procedure of essential importance for citizens and businesses alike.

Sorting & Shredding Room

Sorting & Shredding Room, 1901

In fact, this is not just an ethical issue. Under the Data Protection Directive, it becomes a requirement of the law to destroy any documents that contain sensitive information. According to the Directive, data – processing systems should be designed to serve man; “whereas they must, whatever the nationality or residence of natural persons, respect their fundamental rights and freedoms, notably the right to privacy, and contribute to economic and social progress, trade expansion and the well-being of individuals” [8]

Failure to comply may lead to proceedings against the data controller, large fines or financial compensation to the data subject. The Directive – after the NSA leaks – will become stricter. [9]

Shredding machines is the most secure and common tool that people use to destroy sensitive documents. Shredding has been used to protect regimes as it is used to protect citizens. In the end, history is not definite; it can be kind to us as long as we respect the laws and make good use of the tools we have in hand. Shredding machines is such a tool. [10]

  1. http://www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk/ratb/cuba/cuba_rev.htm
  2. https://www.msu.edu/~comertod/courses/foucault.htm
  3. http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/egyptians-seize-secret-police-files/
  4. http://www.npr.org/2012/10/08/162369606/piecing-together-the-worlds-largest-jigsaw-puzzle
  5. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/swiss-shredding.html
  6. http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/resources-512.html
  7. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/09/us-greece-tax-theft-idUSBRE9780QX20130809
  8. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31995L0046:en:HTML
  9. http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=958ca7da-9c49-4510-9a0f-7626e2197069
  10. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding

A Brief Definition and History of Information Management

We live in the era of high speed, also applied to the exchange and management of information. Our era has its own language, its own jargon, if you’d like. For instance, we abbreviate a lot, expressing our logic focused on saving time and energy and on enhancing speed and efficiency. If I were to ask someone born in a different era than ours what IM stands for, for instance, what would that person reply? That it stands for ‘I am’? Maybe. That it stands for ‘important message’? That could also be an available option. But someone – anyone – living in the here and now might actually give the correct answer applied for the nowadays context, that correct answer that solves today’s puzzle: namely, that IM definitely stands for ‘information management’.

What is information management? Well, grosso modo, information management deals with compiling information received from one or various sources and redistributing it efficiently to audiences. What seems to be a rather simple procedure at the first sight actually acquires many more facets when considering the implications. Information management implies the organization, categorization, coordination, control, structuring and planning of information and the material it stands for, not to mention the processing, evaluation and rendering of accurate reports on what is actually going on during the process. Without all these, corporate functioning would not be possible today, as the whole tertiary system today depends on nothing else than information and the efficient management of it – this is what it is made of!

Information management has its own history, connected closely with the post-industrial society, the end of an era set on production and the beginning of the corporate era, set on service providers which base their activity on the exchange of information. In the 1970s it’s when the ‘nowadays’ were officially on; in other words, when the corporate era was officially on. It is when the working class heroes and small town boys became history and the corporate men in suits took over, from their glass and steel offices well-set in the global city, in the skyscrapers that reach towards the sky and endlessly, stubbornly try to defy it, never giving up. But back then it was only the beginning – and the beginning of information management as well. Back in those days, information management was in its germ phase, still bearing the meaning of file management. The 1970s were not digitalized; the world was still lying on paper – but not for long! Gradually, the miracle happened and the offices got stuffed not with writing machines, but with computers!

Switching to computers as the main working tool meant also a great change in what was called information management. Information was contained in a box, managed from a box, sent to another box and companies started to need more and more qualified employees to manage to play with this new ‘toys’ that seemed capable of doing anything at a press of a button in high speed as well. If in the 1970s anyone could have done information management – which actually translated back then as ‘file management’ -, in the 1990s things were already getting more complicated.

If in the 1990s information management could have still be dealt with by highly qualified employees of some companies, nowadays, in the 2000s and on, information management is already a service by itself provided by specialized  in data protection companies to fellow companies in the purpose of increasing efficiency and guaranteeing the high quality of the services provided, the security of the procedures and, of course, the high speed of the process as well.

Also, information itself changed in its nature and became what we know as data. Data in the computer is turning the information in mechanically, objectively, without the sprinkle of feeling and subjectivity that basically stand for the human error. Since the information once dealt with by humans, with their incumbent or recurrent uncertainties and insecurities that could have left way for mistakes, has been gradually turned into data through the intensive use of computers, nowadays information management also changed its course and stands for an activity on its own, also knows by some already as data management.

Information management (or data management) so much grew in importance that it is a field of expertise that stands on its own already. In case you care about the well-being on your company, you already know that you will need to contract the services of a specialized company in data management services, as data is the air that companies breathe today, just as information is what we feed ourselves on today as well.

I can only wish the reader to enjoy the present and embrace the future, while taking care of their data first!

Digitize it!

We like to store things. As a matter of fact, not only that we like to store our things, but we’re also forced to. If you want to preserve anything valuable – whether it is of sentimental value or, more likely, of monetary value -, you have to store it carefully. Along with living in the digital era, the idea of storing and preserving becomes even more urgent. We live in times when information travels faster than the speed of light… or at least faster than Superman, let’s say – if we want to be sensible on this!

Information, in its digital forms, does not only that travel fast, but it is also more vulnerable. However, document archiving offers unimaginable capabilities that can keep up with the times we live in and latest transformations, so that it can actually take the human habit of gathering, storing and taking care of things to the next level and to a different extent. The idea of digitalizing all of the world’s libraries, for instance, is not new; it was born in 1971 when Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, first talked about his vision. Could you even imagine how brilliant it would be for this great idea to come to life? This way, there would never be a disaster such as the burning of the Library of Alexandria ever again! Plus, Alexandria wasn’t the only temple of knowledge the world has lost… The destruction of the world’s largest and most important storage of knowledge makes me think of how privileged we are to live in the era of digitalization. To put it simply, while we haven’t eliminated all possible dangers, we certainly live in times of unlimited possibilities.  Let’s make the best out of it!

Information Is The Key

Privacy is one of the hot issues of the day – and when we say ‘of the day’ we usually tend to think about today and the current matters going on, as if there has never been a yesterday. However, what one must have in mind is that privacy has been the case ever since humanity exists. Humans have always tried to protect nothing else than … information! Since their fellow humans were after what they are after still today: access to resources! And in order for the cave of treasures to open, one must know the password; one must know how to say ‘Open Sesame’, which actually counts for the very key to fortunes and prosperity, to success and growth.

History shows that information has always been the most precious of the treasures that humans had to guard. Think about the dawn of time, when hunters were gathered in closed groups and one had to pass a harsh initiation process, which was nothing else than a test on whether one could keep the secret … or not. It seems that information was vital ever since then. Hunters forming closed groups were doing nothing else than to protect information about resources, such as the best hunting spots, the best weapons, the best techniques. Of course, they had their competitors: other competing hunting groups, which were after the same thing…

As the world turned around and humanity evolved, information still kept on being the most precious. Just think about the political twists and turns of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar would have never been ‘defeated’ if there had not been for secrecy; some secretive few protected a piece of information, one that only they knew and kept safer than safe, a piece of information that Caesar never found out about – otherwise, history would have surely been different. And this is how power was lost by one and gained by others even back then!

Taking a big leap in time, let’s take a look at those days of the big geographical discoveries that marked the 15th and 16th centuries. What do we learn from there? We learn that what mattered most back then was still information – maybe much more than the gold that was exploited in the new conquered lands. Eventually, it leaked, it got sold and bought, it got away from the hands of some to the hands of others and, so, access to resources had to be shared among more than one power (which was Spain back then). Also, during the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries information was still at the basis of prosperity – so many patents and secrets must have been sold and bought, so that some industrialists to make it better than others. Advanced data protection services did not exist back then, so that to safeguard one’s own business and its steady and future well-being. But what it did exist was a sort of contest, a hunger for information…

There were world wars and conflicts that shook the world’s history. And even then – or maybe especially during those times of intense torment – information was vital. Whoever had it, could win the war. Not to mention the Cold War, which actually might have meant nothing else but a chess game between East and West, played on a board which was actually the world’s map. The peons, though, were precious – as these were real people, sent from one side to another for nothing else than gathering, gaining, buying or selling… information.

Was it any different than the times today? Maybe. But what has not changed at all is the importance of information and data protection matters. Nowadays we have reached the highest speed in the exchange or flow of information that humanity has ever experienced. This is due to the new technological advancements, one of them being also the use of internet. However, data protection has never been more important than at the present moment. That is why nowadays we also have specialized companies in offering nothing else than the antidote: data protection services, as the guarantee to the steadiness and well being of your business.

By looking back in time and then by witnessing today’s progress, I am sometimes proud of having been born today, in the era of smart solutions – maybe smarter than ever! So, let’s all enjoy the benefits of it!