Data Protection and the Death of the Notebook

A journalist colleague of mine asked me today what I did with my old notepads. I explained to her that I kept them for a couple of years (used to be advised to keep them for three years, later revised to just one) and then binned them. More than binned them, I explained, I recycled them, because that’s the type of chap I am. And I was feeling very virtuous and superior in my greenity.

“But what about data protection?” she asked.

“Erm…” I replied.

“It’s just I’ve got so many people’s names and telephone numbers and personal details and their stories in mine,” she said.

I thought about the law and remembered once being told that Data Protection didn’t really apply to work as a journalist or, and I thought for a second, law enforcement. And that was what I said to my colleague.

“That’s true,” she said, gently. “But that part of the law is to do with the use of information, not its disposal.”


Now then, I’ll be honest. The connectedness of the disposal of a shorthand notebook and the Data Protection Act is not something I’ve ever thought about before. But I think my colleague is asking a legitimate question. What should we do with old notepads to ensure those notes which relate to the personal lives of others are correctly disposed of?

Apparently at her old newspaper they had a room where old notepads went to die. Nobody knows what happens after that. Perhaps the “room” was hermetically sealed like a nuclear waste deposit.

We’ve not got an industrial notepad reduction vat. We’ve got a cupboard. And it’snot very large. And it is filling up fast.  In the past, as I’ve said, I’ve recycled the pads when it gets full. My workmate is considering shredding the next cupboard-load. But that will take a very long time and will probably burn anything but a branch shredder.

Before we head and out and buy some heavy-duty paper ripping machine I have to ask all trusty SW readers what they do with old notepads.

One thought on “Data Protection and the Death of the Notebook

  • May 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Well my old notepads currently are mostly just practice – I have a bit of the squirrel mentality so when they do go to notebook heaven I usually put them in the recycle bin. I suppose if there is any danger of notepads containing ‘sensitive’ information they should be shredded. When I worked as a legal secretary I know we had to keep the client files for a certain number of years by law before they could be responsibly disposed of. I’d be interested to know what kind of notepads folk use. I like to be ‘green’ and use recycled paper – but that’s okay if you are using a bic pen or a pencil to take your shorthand note. Any ink more runny and you need the better quality paper. In this modern “tecky” age it’s possible to download ruled paper and make your own notepad. Have not done that myself.


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