The world is becoming paperless at an exponential rate, and the recent push towards remote work has made it necessary to have a thorough understanding of storing documents electronically.
Despite this push for change, many workplaces still have questions before they go fully paperless, primarily revolving around the legality of keeping certain types of documents in the cloud. Others may be worried about potential security risks posed by data breaches or tampering.
However, as the world of e-storage has expanded, so has the legal framework around how to safely and securely manage electronic documents (for example, electronic I-9s were recently recognized as acceptable in the U.S.). A few basic security measures can also increase the security of documents more than maintaining physical copies.
In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of e-storage, as well as some best practices you can take to ensure your methods remain compliant, secure, and accurate.
Note that the following recommendations may not be applicable outside of the United States. This article is not meant to replace professional legal counsel or industry-specific research.
If you’re looking to increase mobility in the age of remote work, e-storage is the way to go. The freedom of not being tied to hard copies, a printer, or fax machine are all huge advantages for employees working from home, and can also improve workflow efficiency. Imagine getting paperwork out of the way before a new hire’s first day without an additional trip to the office.
Easy access to files through e-storage means less wasted time waiting for delivery, searching for physical files, or trying to figure out the right filing method. Instead, a quick search term allows employees to access whatever they need in seconds, while attempting to file hard copies is now replaced with a simple upload and quick click to share electronically.
Finally, e-storage can actually increase your security when the right methods are implemented (we’ll discuss those later). Misfiling or losing digital documents is far less likely than losing their physical counterparts, and frequent backups by tools like Kin prevent corruption or data loss.
Under the ESIGN Act and UETA, no document can be denied enforceability or legal effect due to its electronic form. This means any document you choose to store online or convert into an e-format still has the same power as a physical copy. (Some documents require a physical signature, but are still valid when converted to an electronic copy.
Compliance & Security
There are certain legal obligations that must be met when storing documents electronically.
The first step in compliance is ensuring a quick paper conversion (usually within 1 day) from the first two to three years of creation. After the first two years, the retrieval period may take up to a few days, but must always fall within a reasonable timeframe. Access (i.e., download and print capability) should be available upon request by the party responsible for storing the documentation.
Online access is also a common requirement in many jurisdictions in addition to the ability to convert to a paper copy, and any modifications must be documented (including the number of backups, copies, downloads, etc.). Be prepared to trace a document’s ‘e-paper trail’ if needed. Thankfully, with Kin, this is included on all documents stored within our system.
One of the most critical aspects of storing documents electronically is implementing security measures to prevent tampering, damage, or hacks. Unlike physical copies, electronic documents can potentially be accessed by anyone in the world. Making sure your records are safe and secure is key to preventing legal headaches further down the road.
Creating as many layers of security as possible around your electronic or online storage center does the trick. These layers may include implementing two-factor authentication, setting a strong password that you change on a schedule, (and use a password manager to store), checking your share settings, and encrypting files before uploading them (most tools that do document storage do this for you automatically).
If necessary, you may need to research third party tools that can assist in locking down your files and keeping unwelcome hackers away from sensitive information. Make sure all employees who will be handling these documents are familiar with your security measures, as well. If you would like to speak more on this, reach out to us now.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, events outside of our control can cause damage to storage methods. Ensuring disaster recovery methods are in place to prevent permanent loss of records is a key best practice for e-storage.
Keep disaster copies written to some sort of external harddrive that is stored in a separate geographic location than your main computers. If you are dealing with highly complex materials, employing a disaster recovery service may be worth your time and money, as well.
Finally, documents must be retained for a certain amount of time, which varies by industry
Industries that deal with litigious, sensitive, or regulatory materials will likely require a longer retention period (think healthcare or financial records). Different regulatory bodies have different requirements, so ensure you’re up-to-date with what your specific industry requires.
Have other questions about storing digital documents? Shoot us a message now and we’ll be happy to discuss them.