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Research Data Management: Destruction

Guidance and support to staff, researchers and students at the University of Southampton

Recommended Practices for Destruction of Data

There is a wide range of data held in the University, in many different formats, with research data being one of the most significant. It is important that, as well as planning for the curation of your data, you give consideration to how it will be destroyed where this is required for legal or other reasons. Guidance on when and who authorises the destruction of research data is covered in our section on Retention Periods and in the University Research Data Management Policy.

Secure Destruction of Electronic Data

The following guidance is intended to assist in preventing unauthorised access to University data that is held electronically, especially when the device on which it resides is disposed of or recycled. It should be noted that;

  • The University is responsible under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive 2007 to ensure the secure and safe disposal of electronic equipment including PCs. The University provides through Estates and Facilities a WEEE skip for this purpose, if you need your PC to be securely disposed of, please contact Serviceline
  • The University also provide general guidelines on how to handle information safely 
  • If you have any questions on the secure handling of your data please contact ServicelineElectronic data is stored on two broad formats, magnetic and solid state e.g. Hard disks, USB stick, flash cards or Tape, and optical e.g. CDs or DVDs. The appropriate method for removing/destroying data from these two categories of storage media are quite different.

Magnetic and Solid State Media

To enable the secure disposal of electronically held data, it is not sufficient to simply delete the folder or file(s) from your PC or other device, because the data remains on the media but the space previously allocated is now available to be overwritten at some point in the future. Even reformatting the storage is not guaranteed to make the data unavailable. There are several methods to ensure that electronic data held on magnetic and solid state media is secure from unauthorised access.

  1. Delete the data and overwrite multiple times the unallocated space on your hard drive/USB stick. This process can take some time to complete.
    • DBAN is a popular and free disk wiping utility and is available for Macintosh, Linux and Windows PCs
    • On Macintosh (10.3 or greater) the "Secure Empty Trash" utility is available from the "Finder" menu
  2. Physical destruction of the disk
    • The University retains an external company that specialises in destroying magnetic and solid state media and will provide a "Certificate of Assurance". Please contact Serviceline for further details

Optical media

It is recommended that optical media such as DVDs and CDs are physically destroyed. A simple method is to use a suitable shredder. Note that not all shredders are capable of destroying optical media, please check the suitability of your shredder before using this method.

Secure Destruction of Print Based Data

It is important that any data identified as sensitive and/or confidential and is not to be retained, whether for legal, ethical or other reasons, is destroyed carefully.  The University Estates and Facilities provide a service for the removal of confidential waste.  They define confidential was as

"material containing sensitive personal or business sensitive data which requires destruction to ensure that the contents remain private in order to comply with the Data Protection Act"

This would cover sensitive research print-based data.  Requests for the removal of confidential waste should be made via Planon on SUSSED.  However, if your data is highly sensitive you should seek advice from within your Faculty/Research/Academic group to confirm that this is appropriate for your material.

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