A Brief History of Paper Shredding, Part One

In today’s society, we have become so accustomed to the digitization of data, that sometimes we may forget how much information remains in physical format. Documents stored on a computer may still be printed as a hard copy, and there are also phone messages quick notes and other items, that can all combine to provide an opportunity for the theft of information. Companies that are targeted for economic espionage are particularly vulnerable, as well as their clients and customers, either due to carelessness on their part of that of businesses charged with gathering sensitive information. That is one reason companies, and individuals, have been turning to document destruction, a process long utilized be government agencies. Document Destruction is usually achieved with shredders in an industrial facility dedicated to that purpose.

Stories of document destruction, or paper shredding if you will, have appeared regularly in the media. In 2002, the Enron scandal exploded and it was revealed that Arthur Anderson LLP, the accounting firm that assisted Enron in falsifying their record of earnings, had shredded tons of documents.

Most businesses use paper shredding for much more legitimate reasons, such as protection against economic espionage. But companies are not the only ones that need to destroy information; so do individuals. According to the FTC in 2018, there were over three million complaints from consumers of some type of identity theft, which occurs when a criminal steals financial or other information from a person, then poses as them in order to siphon funds. Think of your trash… you may receive a credit card offer, dismiss it as junk, and throw it away. Once your garbage is placed out for pickup, it’s easy for a thief to go through it, remove the credit card offer, send it in after filling out the information requested, and obtain a card, courtesy of you… the innocent consumer who failed to appropriately dispose of that piece of “junk mail”. In the nineties, these nefarious individuals earned the alliterative moniker of “dumpster diver”.

Private eyes, and even law enforcement can take advantage of the fact that material a person has thrown away in open to search without a warrant. Not every vulnerability to identity theft or invasion of privacy involves those intent on misusing your private records.

Stay tuned for part two of this brief history…