Document destruction’s biggest challenge is its image. Though the vast majority of shredding is performed by document destruction firms charged with maintaining the privacy of individuals by destroying hard copies of sensitive information like social security numbers and medical records, shredding is seen by many people as something crooked executives do just before the Securities and Exchange Commission arrives.

But the history of document destruction is a history of privacy; in fact, one of the first shredders was developed as a way of protecting people’s privacy.

Let’s take a look at the history of document destruction in the 20th Century, from the invention of the first shredder to the current laws governing privacy.

1909. Abbot Augustus Lowe patents the first shredder, but his goal isn’t document destruction – it’s conservation. A scientist, inventor and entrepreneur (as well as the brother of a New York City mayor), Low was looking an easier way to dispose of paper. But his shredder was never manufactured beyond the prototype – he died three years later.

1934. Passed by Congress as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Social Security Act introduces the popular social program, and makes it illegal to disclose a social security number to anyone but its owner.

1935. Adolf Ehinger modifies a pasta maker to create the world’s second-ever paper shredder. Its first use: Destroy Ehinger’s stacks of anti-Nazi pamphlets and propaganda before Hitler’s brownshirts could find it. As the years passed, Ehinger added electric motors to his shredders and began selling them to government offices and financial institutions.

1972. G. Gordon Liddy, an operative of Richard Nixon, forever tarnished the practice of document destruction by shredding entire reams of paperwork, in an effort to cover up any trace of the botched burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The reputations of document destruction and the Watergate Hotel survive intact; Liddy served four and a half years in prison before his sentence was commuted by Jimmy Carter.

1974. After Watergate, Congress gets serious about privacy by passing the Privacy Act, thus securing and regulating the confidentiality of personal information. The Act also reinforces the right to privacy guaranteed by the US Constitution.

1978. Congress passes the Right to Financial Privacy Act, enumerating the privacy rights of banking customers and protecting them from government intrusion into their financial records. It is notable as the first industry-specific privacy law, paving the way for the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as well as several similar laws at the state leve.

1979. The importance of using cross-cut shredders in document destruction becomes evident when Iranian revolutionaries, emboldened by the recent coup, storm the American embassy and seize – along with several hostages – piles of shredded secret documents. But the documents had only been shredded into thin strips, making reassembly a relatively simple task.

1988. Personal home shredders rise in popularity after the Supreme Court rules that trash is no longer private property once it hits the curb. Ruling that garbage left for collection is not subject to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the Court inadvertently convinces several thousand homeowners to start their own document destruction programs at home.

1996. Congress passes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), compelling hospitals, general practitioners and insurance companies to perform regular purges of sensitive information from their records. The law requires regular paper document destruction as well as hard drive wipes. Also passed is the Economic Espionage Act, which requires document destruction programs for trade secrets.

2001 and 2003. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act is passed, protecting consumers’ private credit and financial information from theft. Like HIPAA, the law requires extensive document destruction.

Accurate Document Destruction Inc. provides a wide range of shredding services to clients in PA, NY and NJ, from shredding paper off-site at our facility to shredding paper on-site using our mobile document shredding unit. Give us a call or visit our pricing page to get a price quote, or visit our FAQ to learn more about us.

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