Email marketing’s dependence on digital information has produced situations where a word in common usage is just not precise enough. Take destroy for instance. One dictionary definition is ‘to ruin completely’. It is not quite that straightforward once we start storing data on computers. The data needs to be legally secure.
The Data Protection Act tells us that in certain circumstances you must destroy any personal data you hold on someone, such as a subscriber to your email marketing list. The problem you have in such circumstances is how you can ruin such data completely.
Pressing the delete button is not enough of course. The data remains on the hard drive and can be accessed in other ways. Oddly enough, this can be a relief as anyone who has experienced a catastrophic failure of a hard disc will agree. What it means is that at some unspecified time in the future the data will probably be overwritten. With hard discs measured in terrabytes, it is possible that this will never happen.
Further, technical requirements might mean that you cannot destroy one set of details without affecting other vital information.
The Information Commissioners’ Office comes to your rescue. It uses the phrase: ‘put beyond use’. It means precisely what the ICO wants it to mean.
Data is put beyond use if the data controller:
– is not able, or will not attempt, to use the personal data to inform any decision in respect of any individual or in a manner that affects the individual in any way;
– does not give any other organisation access to the personal data;
– surrounds the personal data with appropriate technical and organisational security; and
– commits to permanent deletion of the information if, or when, this becomes possible.
You will not be required to grant access to the data to individuals if all four of the above requirements are satisfied, but, however, courts can demand access.
If you are disposing of your hard drives, and other devices that might contain personal data, you must ensure that any such information is irretrievable. There is software available which will virtually shred data, but the best way is to physically destroy the drive. This can become a satisfying ten minutes with a hammer.
Data is both the strength of email marketing and a possible weakness. Ensure your systems reinforce the former.