Summary: It's no secret that data is one of the most important assets for any organization. But what happens when that data is mishandled or lost? Educational institutions face a unique set of data security and privacy challenges to stay compliant with laws like FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), GDPR, CCPA, etc. In this article, we will look at the data destruction requirements for educational institutions to protect their students, faculty, and research personnel data when putting the IT device to rest or reallocating. These institutions must take special precautions to protect their data and prevent episodes of data breaches.
Role of US Department of Education in Promoting Data Security
Educational institutions are increasingly facing data destruction challenges as they seek to protect the personal information of their students and employees. In response, the US Department of Education (ED) has developed a Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to help educational institutions deal with data destruction issues. The PTAC offers guidance on a variety of privacy-related topics, including data destruction. The PTAC provides resources that help educational institutions understand their legal obligations related to student privacy and how to comply with government data security regulations. Additionally, the PTAC provides technical assistance on data destruction technologies and procedures. Through its resources and assistance, the PTAC aims to help educational institutions protect their data from unauthorized access or misuse.
Legal Obligations for Educational Institutions to Destroy Data:
Educational institutions are required by law to destroy highly confidential student data when the data is no longer needed for educational purposes. These institutions are required to stay compliant with global laws and regulations considering they handle data of their own students as well as international students. Laws like GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc. may apply to these institutions that may also fall under the jurisdiction of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA applies to all schools that receive funding from any level of government, including private schools. If an educational institution is not subject to FERPA, then it may still be subject to other data destruction requirements. For example, an educational institution that receives federal financial assistance may be subject to HIPAA regulations, which impose additional data destruction requirements. This means that information such as social security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses must be deleted or rendered unreadable.
What Educational Institutions Need to Know About Data Destruction?
Educational institutions need to be aware of the data destruction requirements that apply to them. Federal and state laws, as well as institutional policies, may require the destruction of specific types of data. A full understanding of these requirements can help educational institutions avoid potential legal issues.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to data destruction:
- The data destruction process must be documented and tracked through a Data Destruction Policy that defines the data destruction method basis the media type and generation of audit trails in the form of verifiable reports.
- Identify the types of data that need to be destroyed. Educational institutions should identify the types of data that could be sensitive, such as personally identifiable information (PII), social security numbers, and financial records.
- Determine the appropriate method for destroying the data. Educational institutions can choose from a variety of methods, including data erasure, shredding, burning, or degaussing. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks. Educational institutions should weigh these factors before choosing an appropriate method.
- The data must be destroyed in a manner that is compliant with applicable laws and regulations.
- Employees and Staff should be trained and sensitized on their responsibility for adhering to data destruction requirements and staying compliant.
What are the Best Methods for Data Destruction?
There are different methods of data destruction that involve wiping or destroying data so that it can no longer be accessed or used. PTAC (Privacy Technical Assistance Center) recommends educational institutions to follow NIST Guidelines for Media sanitization that is comprehensive and defines methods best suited for all storage devices including modern SSDs.
- Physical Destruction: In this method, a data-bearing device is physically destroyed, such as by burning or shredding it. This is not a recommended method unless the drive has multiple bad sectors and cannot be sanitized using a software-based erasure. Moreover, this method adds to e-waste and is not environmentally friendly.
- Data Erasure: This is a software-based erasure method where the data on the device is overwritten with 0s and 1s using global data-wiping algorithms that permanently erases the data. This makes the data irrecoverable by all means and is an environment-friendly solution as it renders the media reusable. NIST recommends the Clear and Purge method for data erasure to make data recovery infeasible even using state-of-the-art laboratory techniques. Refer to our article to learn more.
Selecting a data destruction technique should be based on the sensitivity of the data, the risk & impact of unauthorized disclosure. For example, the risk of compromising a file that contains the student’s roll call along with names may not be as severe as the file that contains PII information of students including their Social Security Numbers, Date of Birth, address, & bank details. The approach of destroying files when not in use might be different basis the negative impact of disclosing the data in both scenarios. In the latter, we need to ensure the data is wiped using a highly secure method that provides proof of erasure to ensure no student data is compromised.
Data destruction requirements for educational institutions can be a bit daunting, but with the right policies and procedures in place, data destruction can be simple and straightforward. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your institution is taking all necessary precautions to protect its data from falling into wrong hands. Using a secure data erasure tool that follows NIST guidelines for media sanitization and is also tested by them can help prevent data vulnerabilities.