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

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!

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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

85th Annual AHIMA Convention Exhibit, October 26-30, 2013.

The AHIMA Convention & Exchibit is an annual conference about healthcare management. More than four thousand experts participated in the conference this year. In case you are interested in the field, you shouldn’t miss it next time.

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Trust: It’s the Bottom Line of Life

Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam, a community leader and manager of an NGO in South India, is an inspiring young man. He and his small group of people have dedicated their lives to provide basic health care, education and support to tribal groups in the region. He said that his experience with the tribes taught him a very important lesson:

unless you are willing to trust, and be trusted by people, life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”.

There are quite a few things that have happened recently that made me also think about trust, how important it is for our lives. There is an unprecedented crisis that affects us all. Companies close, people are left unemployed; there is a lot of insecurity and uncertainty out there. Many seem to have lost their confidence in their government or even towards society as a whole. Others feel betrayed as if somehow a contract has been broken. I have heard too many speak of their lost faith in the human kind; they are our friends, our neighbors, our family.

Our lives are woven together as in a fabric, but the connections that used to make society strong now seem to make us vulnerable. What we seem to be lacking of is trust and somehow this seems to have a negative effect on everyone’s life.  It is proven for example that where trust is low, crime and corruption are high.

From a business perspective, IBM boss Thomas J. Watson notes that: “The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.”

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Trust is valuable and needs to be fostered. Trust is the key. When you are in a relationship, if you can’t trust the person you are with, the relationship will fail. Trust involves a degree of vulnerability; People feel safe in the hands of another therefore share personal information, feelings, thoughts. It is necessary in a romantic relationship, in a relationship of a patient with a doctor, in a relationship between a customer and a company, between a citizen and his government. Trust is a silent contract; people have confidence that the other part will not act or use information shared against their interests and will fulfill a certain role.

Almost everything evolves a relationship of trust. A trivial thing like driving a car is based on trust. If I didn’t trust that the drivers of the cars coming against me would stay on their own side of the road, driving would become a very difficult and dangerous experience. A law is valid only when people trust that it is on their interest and act accordingly.

To give another example, if I was lost in a country I‘ve never been and I didn’t trust the people, I would be quite stressed and full of anxiety when asking directions or any kind of request. I would personally spend a lot of time and energy to evaluate the correctness of the information handed to me in fear of being tricked into an unknown and unpleasant situation. You’ve seen horror movies. You know how it all starts and how it ends. Can you really trust these strange people?

Yes, you guessed correctly, low trust makes you paranoid…

The simple fact is that you don’t have to get lost in a strange country with strange people to become paranoid. Just ask all those who don’t trust their government. Maybe they have a real reason.  According to recent researches, fewer Americans than ever trust their government to solve their problems. The same goes for British and Greeks  to give but a few examples of a growing global tendency.

And what happens when citizens don’t trust politicians? They seem to get drawn towards conspiracy theories. In Greece, more and more people believe in the theory of chemtrails. Paranoia, is a sign of low trust and signifies a severely damaged relationship; in the case of Greece between citizens and government.

We live in times of a crisis. These are difficult times for many that test the strength of our relationships. This is true for individuals, as it is for companies and governments. My recent observations would suggest that nowadays more than ever progression in business demands uncommon levels of trust. Buyers are more nervous than ever before. And it makes sense.

The only way to turn this situation around is by really caring for your customer. You see, the thing about trust is that you can’t fake it. And this is where actions speak louder than words. Action is the only language of trust.

In the field of business, an example of such an action that helps foster a relationship of trust is a software escrow agreement http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/software-escrow.

. It is signed between developers and users of software to ensure that despite what happens, in case of an uncontrolled catastrophe, due to a bankruptcy or a merger with another company, the user of the product will not be left without access to the source code that might be required for maintenance, disaster recovery or upgrades. And this can make the difference.

As Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam said, trust is vital; without it “life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”. In our difficult times (which will unfortunately be with us for quite a long) this is truer than ever. In the end, “to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved” (George MacDonald, The Marquis of Lossie, 1877). Just think about it.

The Importance of Archiving Data

Memories

When I was young I used to collect all sorts of things: cd’s with my favorite music, magazine articles for things that interested me, coins, DVD’s, gadgets from my holiday’s destinations and even matchboxes for a short while. The reason is obvious: it was the simple desire to store and preserve everything that made me happy or brought to me good memories from the past. Well, it is a habit I kind of miss since I grew up a little bit. I remember the joy and the feeling of satisfaction every time I felt like updating or even checking on one of my boyish collections. It was a true feeling of joy!

What does it mean to grow up? Well, it means that the necessities of life knock at your door at some time (along with the pleasures of the adult life that is). A necessity of adult life couldn’t be other than the need to gather and preserve data that concern your professional life. You might need to do it by yourself if you are an accountant that works from home. Or, you might need to do it for your company if you’re one of the lucky ones that has his own office downtown (in the times of high rates of unemployment around Europe, yes, this is what I call luck!).

Archiving Data

How many times a company had to face devastating results in the light of a mismanagement of its data? I guess it must be many! Nowadays especially, the need of a company to store its data in an appropriate way it’s not only a necessity directed from the need to operate smoothly and efficiently but it is also a matter of stricter regulations and policies concerning data management and archive storage. E.U. recent regulations have generated heated discussions concerning the issue. Nevertheless, what matters in this case is not how things should have been but how one can adjust to new realities.

Guinness World Record/Shred Day DFW 2012

Iron Mountain provides excellent services for document storage. The company simply gathers the documents and stores them to their off-site storage facilities. Web services offered by the company provide an easy and quick access to your archive. What is more, you can label, search and of course request a retrieval of documents at any time. Iron Mountain has over 1.000 storage facilities around the world and has been operating on the field since 1951. Now, this is what I call a safe choice if you want to guarantee business continuity for your own company!

Apart from storing data and information though, there is also another necessity. It consists of the simple fact that some data, some information, needs to be destroyed. And this is another sensitive issue that has been thoroughly discussed by everyone concerned: individuals, companies, institutions and governmental agencies. It goes like this: some information is valuable (it could costs millions sometimes!) and some other is simply, from a point onward, confidential waste, meaning simply waste. And these are confidential waste that a company must get rid of.

Interactive Kiosks

In addition, by being waste it means that you need to make proper use of them! The world we live in faces a problem, we all know it: it is the single most crucial problem this planet faces and will need to face in the future and it’s the ecological one. I will put it bluntly: if we want to imagine that sometime from now in the future normal life will still go on than we really need to start protecting the environment. In other words, your confidential waste must become recycling material and obviously this is a job that needs to be handled professionally.

Businesswoman signing the contract.

Many companies choose to outsource the job of destroying their data in order to keep up with data destruction requirements and ecological concerns. Usually, they are provided with locked consoles which are emptied on a regular basis by the external company’s stuff. The waste will be 100% recycled. In addition, a small company that wishes to avoid signing a contract, it can request on-demand shredding services by another company. That means that they can use their services whenever is needed as a small company probably doesn’t need to deal with huge amount of information and confidential waste that is.

This whole issue is all about responsibility and transparency in case you didn’t get it. I only hope that most companies will comply with all of the the rules and regulations…

The Art of Preservation

Hollywood also needs its preservation expert

Classy photographs of Hollywood stars and old Film equipments

We live in an era when the right to joy and entertainment nearly equals other rights, such as that right to the pursuit of happiness, for instance.  Especially during the last decades, and at least in the Western world, everyone seems to be very concerned with this need, urge and desire for a little bit more entertainment. It is as if most of us are pursuing our happiness in some dream-like worlds, settings and contexts revealed and offered to us by the means of entertainment. Even if ephemeral, they do trigger our wildest imagination and inspire us, getting our energy level up, even if for a little while. It might be only natural, since , honestly speaking, not all of us people have  the resources or opportunity to go on the pursuit of happiness  for real and for granted, with many chances of getting there and also decreased risks of losing it on the way.

Given the situation, no wonder everything seems to be more pleasurable today. Did you ever take a look at Google’s offices around the world for example? If so, you must have gotten that feeling that those people in there are having fun most of the time instead of actually working hard! Or that those are the offices of the future just as well, for the sake of the health and well being of those spending most of their time in their workplace.  Indeed, it was in the 1960’s when people – citizens of this world – demanded “play” and “joy” to be universal rights. Therefore, even at work one shouldn’t be deprived of the right to play, enjoy and have some fun…

Based on the aforementioned, the world of entertainment grew till it became huge – larger than life, one might argue.  It is one of the biggest and most profitable industries worldwide. People in the U.S. or in Europe tend to ask for more and more cultural products, giving this impression that they simply can’t have enough! It’s never enough also due to the fact that technology has made things much more exciting.

Nothing is static nowadays and there is always something new around, even when you might have thought that you had had enough… Take the movie industry, for example: the introduction of 3D technology came at the moment when many viewers had already started to prefer their home cinema over the big screen. After the release of the first blockbusters in 3D, I don’t think that many would choose to watch Iron Man 3 at home! Of course, there is always this option of purchasing a 3D television set for the living room; however, it still does not equal the pleasure derived by the higher 3D technology used in a cinema hall.

Iron Mountain – Storing and Managing Entertainment assets

Talking about entertainment, I simply cannot imagine our modern lives without Hollywood. Because Hollywood, only by its name being echoed, actually, signifies the Eldorado of world entertainment!  It is there, in California, where the heart of popular entertainment is endlessly pumping. And for this heart to go on, we also need the ideal means of preserving all of those enjoyable little treasures.

This is when the specialists in safeguarding the product of our work come into the picture. Iron Mountain Entertainment Services are the world’s single largest center on film, sound, and digital preservation services. In case you were wondering what Universal Studios, Sony, Corbis, Universal Music Group and Paramount Pictures might have in common, other than producing and distributing tons of cultural products for our eyes only, well, then here is your answer: they all trust Iron Mountain’s valuable services. This leading company world-wide when it comes to data protection or information and records management among other services, hosts safely around 22 million elements produced and owned by over 1.200 media and entertainment companies.

 Video about Iron Mountain in Virginia including the Corbis Bettmann Archive File Preservation Facility.

Their services are complete and complex and include analog to digital transfer, real-time film viewing and videotape cleaning, among many other much needed services in the industry.  Not to forget their 2 petabyte (PB) online Digital Content Repository, where companies can store and retrieve their digital material! It is hosted at the now enlarged Iron Mountain’s Digital Studios in… Hollywood. Where else could they have been than in Hollywood!?

So here you have it: as long as this world is driven by information and informational material (which is what the entertainment industry is actually using and constantly producing), we will also need a preservation expert. We need someone that can guarantee to us that nothing will be lost, since we live in an era when information is crucial, but also sensitive and vulnerable.  If you have ever lost even a small movies collection that you might have gathered on your computer because of a minor error or because the system crashed, you might then know what I mean …