Compliant destruction of Australian Government records

When can records be destroyed?

An Australian Government record can only be destroyed after it has reached its destruction date as identified in a records authority issued by the National Archives of Australia.

The process of using a records authority to decide whether to keep, destroy or transfer records is sentencing.

What should I do before destroying a record?

If you intend to destroy an Australian Government record, you need to make sure that the minimum retention period has expired. If the record was sentenced at the time it was created or sentenced and then held for a time, you should make sure that:

  • information that does not fit that sentence has not been added to the record  
  • circumstances have not changed so that a non-controversial issue has become controversial or is of public interest, meaning your agency should keep records due for destruction for a longer time
  • the record is not affected by a records disposal freeze, related to a current judicial proceeding or subject to a current application for access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 or other legislation.

Once you have decided which records need to be destroyed you should note this decision in your control records. Control records are kept to help manage other records, like file indexes and registers. When you do this, you should also note the destruction process you plan to use. This process can be used to demonstrate that you have sentenced and destroyed your records accountably.

How do I destroy a record?

To destroy Australian Government records you need to make them unreadable and irretrievable.

Physical records

Methods for destroying physical records such as papers, photographs and films include:

  • pulping
  • burning 
  • shredding.

You should review the guidelines in the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework relevant to destruction methods suitable for your agency’s physical records.

Digital records

Deletion is not destruction and does not meet the requirements for destruction of Australian Government records. When digital records are deleted it is only the pointer to the record (such as the file name and directory path) that is deleted. The actual data objects are gradually overwritten in time by new data. However, until the data is completely overwritten, there remains a possibility that the information can be retrieved.

Methods of destroying digital records include:

  • digital file shredding
  • degaussing – the process of demagnetising magnetic media to erase recorded data
  • physical destruction of storage media – such as pulverisation, incineration or shredding
  • reformatting – if it can be guaranteed that the process cannot be reversed.

To ensure the complete destruction of a digital record, all copies should be found and destroyed. This includes removing and destroying copies contained in system backups and offsite storage.

The Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework and the Australian Government Information Technology Security Manual provide more information on appropriate methods of destruction for digital records and associated media formats. The decision of how to destroy your digital records should be based on a risk assessment.

How do I make sure records are properly destroyed?

Make sure you destroy records securely. Never leave records at the local tip, as they may be retrieved by someone else, without your knowledge. Never sell records, even if they would otherwise have been destroyed. When you destroy records, ensure that you are there to see the destruction carried out or can receive a report that guarantees the work has been completed.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014