To gain visibility and control over your information, developing an effective data retention and disposal policy is a must. However, with evolving regulations and complex data systems to contend with, creating a data retention policy is no mean feat.
And when you factor in that your business’ data is most probably spread across multiple applications and departments, things are bound to get even more complicated.
To keep track of your organisation’s most critical information and maintain its operations, we’ll define a data retention policy in more detail, explain why you need one and show you how to create an effective data retention policy with the help of a data retention policy template.
What is a data retention and disposal policy?
A data retention policy is a set of guidelines that helps organisations retain information for operational and regulatory compliance needs. It details how long information must be kept, along with how to dispose of the information when it’s no longer needed.
The policy should also outline the reasons for processing personal data. This ensures you have documented proof that justifies your data retention and disposal periods.
Why is a data retention and disposal policy necessary?
Since data can pile up quicker than you might think, your data retention policy should define how long an organisation must hold on to specific data.
And despite the draconian appearance of GDPR data retention periods (i.e., the amount of time that an organisation keeps a particular type of data), there are no rules on storage limitation. That said, an organisation should only retain data for as long as it’s needed. Retaining data longer than necessary can take up unnecessary storage space and ends up being more expensive in the long run.
But there’s more to a data retention and disposal policy than simply ticking legal and compliance boxes. Because data is such an important asset, an effective policy can add real value to an entire business in the following ways:
- Automated compliance: With an established policy, businesses can ensure they comply with regulatory requirements that mandate retaining various data types
- Reduced likelihood of compliance-related fines: Even if a business retains all the data that’s legally required, they must still be able to produce that data at the request of an auditor. By only retaining the minimally required volume of data, locating it is easier and less time-intensive, which reduces the chance that an organisation could be fined for failing to produce data required to be retained
- Reduced storage costs: By reducing your business’ volume of data, you’ll also be reducing the costs associated with data storage.
- Increased relevancy of existing data: The longer you hold onto data, the less relevant it becomes. A data retention policy thus removes irrelevant data that your business no longer needs.
- Reduced legal exposure: When unneeded data is removed, you eliminate the possibility that the data can be used against you in the event of legal action
In addition to the above, a data retention policy can answer questions about your business’ performance, allow you to plan for its future, and deal with inefficiencies. Simply put, an effective data retention policy can help you become a lean, agile organisation.
How to create an effective data retention and disposal policy
Creating a data retention policy can be challenging. Some organisations may find outsourcing the policy creation and implementation process a more feasible option. But for businesses looking to go the internal route, they should keep the below in mind.
First, you should know exactly what data you’re processing, what it’s being used for, and which regulations apply to your business.
These regulations include, but are not limited to, the GDPR. For example, if you process an individual’s debit or credit card information, you may be subject to the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).
Likewise, if you intend to comply with ISO 27001 (the international standard that describes best practice for information security), then you must take note of its requirements. Requirements such as these will dictate what information must be included in your policy and the rules it should follow.
Generally, your data retention policy will address:
- The types of information covered in the policy: Different types of information are subject to different rules, so you must keep a record of what data you are processing, whether it’s names, addresses, contact details, financial records and so on.
- How long you are entitled to keep information: As mentioned above, GDPR does not set out specific time limits for data to be held. That means you’ll have to set the length of time based on subjective reasons for processing this data.
- What to do with the data when it’s no longer needed: By regularly deleting unnecessary data, you’ll reduce the amount of data you’ll have to wade through to comply with subject access requests. It also allows you to remove duplicate or outdated files, which helps avoid confusion and speeds up any necessary searches.
In creating your data retention policy, you should carry out the following steps.
- Agree on who is responsible for creating the policy. Since the creation involves expert input from several areas of the organisation, this tends to be a team effort, with IT staff, the business’s legal department and other key stakeholders all pitching in. You should also work with legal (or HR) to establish a means of enforcing the policy
- Determine your legal requirements. The policy must meet or exceed the requirements outlined in the regulations that apply to your business. Identifying the legal requirements up front is important: they’re the grounding the rest of your policy will be built on
- Determine who will be responsible for ensuring that data retention is being performed according to the policy
- Determine how to perform internal audits to ensure policy compliance
- Decide the frequency with which the data retention policy should be reviewed and revised
- Determine how the data retention requirements are implemented and enforced at a software level
- Write up the official data retention policy
- Once the first draft has been written up, present it to key stakeholders for approval
CDL is one of the UK’s leading IT disposal companies, working to help private and public businesses safely retire and recycle their outdated IT assets. To find out how we could help your business, or for more of the latest tech news and advice, visit our homepage or call our team today on 0333 060 2846.