find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
Legal Inhouse / Lawyer / Company Secretary
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Fantastic Company · Potential to be Part Time / Flexible Work Pattern
View details
Part Time Risk & Compliance Officer
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· Brisbane City · Flexible Part Time Hours
View details
Client files treated like trash

Client files treated like trash

A survey that scoured the contents of commercial garbage bins has found that law firms have not properly destroyed almost double the average amount of confidential information.

On Tuesday (19 February), the Australian and New Zealand branch of the global National Association for Information Destruction (NAID-ANZ) released the results of a survey of commercial rubbish bins in Sydney.

The survey analysed the trash of more than 100 organisations in the Sydney metropolitan area. It found that 11 per cent of companies had personal information readily available to pedestrians and identity thieves. Of the 16 law firms featured, three (19%) had confidential information that was sitting towards the top of rubbish bins.

“There is no doubt this is a major worry for the legal services sector in Australia,” said NAID CEO Bob Johnson. “This [information in the bins] was found on one random casual day, and I want to make the point that this is far more common than you would think.”

The 16 law firms targeted included firms with more than 25 lawyers, between 10 and 25 lawyers and less than 10 lawyers.

Two of the three offending firms had between 10 and 25 lawyers, with the other firm having less than 10 lawyers. Documents found in the bin at one of those firms included confidential information involving a legal claim against an employer where a female employee brought charges about a specific medical condition she claimed was the result of a hostile workplace.

In November, a study by the law firm risk management company IntApp, which included 30 of Australia’s largest firms, found that two-thirds of respondents indicated that information about clients is openly accessible to all staff within the firm.

NAID and IntApp did not disclose the names of the organisations featured in the respective surveys.

The horse has bolted
NSW Legal Services Commissioner Steve Mark also attended the release of the survey’s results and gave a presentation himself on the topic of Betrayed trust: The serious consequences of negligence.

Mark, who is also the registrar of the Australasian Register of Security Professionals, said that an underlying issue not addressed was whether society has already “given up” on privacy.

“The NAID discussion was about the destruction of information on hard copy,” said Mark. “Most of what is in the press today is about electronic information and hacking, and how do you protect that?

“If something is on Facebook, you can never destroy it.”

During his presentation, Mark also played devil’s advocate and asked about the ethics of destroying documents in the first place.

“What are the ethics about destroying documentation or information when there is a real societal need to retain it?” said Mark. “If you were a lawyer you would have to ask those questions.”

No dumpster diving
The survey painted a gloomy picture of data protection and privacy.

Johnson claimed that due to Australian laws that prohibit the taking of garbage from a bin, the survey was biased in favour of organisations, as the private investigator hired to go through commercial bins could not access the total content of the bins.

“They didn’t jump into the container, dig down in, tear open bags wildly, some of which an identity thief might do,” said Johnson. “It was about what you could casually find by opening the container and seeing what is in there.”

In North America, it is legal to take garbage away from bins, and a similar survey in Toronto found that more than 40 per cent of organisations included in the study had confidential information in commercial waste.

Studies in London and Madrid also found that more than 40 per cent of organisations had confidential client information in bins.

Other organisations featured in the Sydney survey included bank branches, hospitals, doctors offices, accountancy firms and financial planners.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Client files treated like trash
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Nov 23 2017
Anti-radicalisation programs playing ‘second fiddle’ to terrorism laws
Several academics have questioned the balance between Australia’s counterterrorism legislation and...
 William Ah Ket
Nov 23 2017
‘Bamboo ceiling’ thought piece wins inaugural law prize
A paper that explores the idea of affirmative action to achieve greater diversity among members of A...
Nov 22 2017
Reduced investment protections will make robust commercial arbitration mechanisms all the more critical for investors
Promoted by Maxwell Chambers. This article discusses the current trend away from investor protect...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...