Compliant destruction of Australian Government records

What should I do before disposing of information?

If you intend to dispose of information, check that it has been sentenced and the minimum retention period has expired.

Make sure:

  • the original sentence is still appropriate to the content and value of the information
  • circumstances have not changed so that a non-controversial issue has become controversial or is of public interest, resulting in your agency needing to keep the information for longer
  • the record is not affected by a records disposal freeze, related to a current judicial proceeding or subject to a current application for access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 or other legislation.

Record the disposal decision and the process you will use in control records. This will help demonstrate that sentencing and destruction have been done properly.

How do I compliantly destroy a record?

To destroy Australian Government records you need to make them unreadable and irretrievable.

The Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework and the Australian Government Information Technology Security Manual provide more information on appropriate methods of destruction for digital records and associated media formats. The decision of how to destroy your digital records should be based on a risk assessment.

Physical records

Methods for destroying physical records such as papers, photographs and films include:

  • pulping
  • burning
  • shredding

You should review the guidelines in the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework relevant to destruction methods suitable for your agency’s physical records.

Digital records

Deletion is not destruction and does not meet the requirements for destruction of Australian Government records. When digital records are deleted it is only the pointer to the record (such as the file name and directory path) that is deleted. The actual data objects are gradually overwritten in time by new data. However, until the data is completely overwritten, there remains a possibility that the information can be retrieved.

Methods of destroying digital records include:

  • digital file shredding
  • degaussing – the process of demagnetising magnetic media to erase recorded data
  • physical destruction of storage media – such as pulverisation, incineration or shredding
  • reformatting – if it can be guaranteed that the process cannot be reversed.

To ensure the complete destruction of a digital record, all copies should be found and destroyed. This includes removing and destroying copies contained in system backups and offsite storage.

How do I make sure records are properly destroyed?

Make sure you destroy records securely. Never leave records at the local tip, as they may be retrieved by someone else, without your knowledge. Never sell records, even if they would otherwise have been destroyed. When you destroy records, ensure that you are there to see the destruction carried out or can receive a report that guarantees the work has been completed.

Notification of records destroyed

When records are destroyed, you should notify the National Archives of Australia using the Notification of Records Destroyed (NAS 45) form. Notification should be within 30 days of the date of destruction. Guidelines for completing the form are included.

Download NAS 45 form:

Unauthorised destruction of information and records

If you discover information or records have been destroyed or disposed of without appropriate authorisation, contact the Agency Service Centre.

For more information see What to do in cases of unauthorised destruction of information.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018