In this electronic age, we leave our digital footprints practically everywhere we go on computers and online. What are the limits to data retention and when should our footprints be wiped clean? This question perhaps raises even more questions instead of a firm answer.
Once upon a time, what we said and how we acted was not recorded in any real way. If we spoke to someone, those words disappeared into the atmosphere after having been uttered. Now, of course, so much speech is conducted electronically, leaving a retrievable record of what was said. Perhaps in certain contexts we might like to know that our previously electronically recorded words might not live on forever, only potentially to haunt us later in life.
For example, teenagers frolicking about on Facebook might prefer to think that later when adults their earlier online exploits and comments will not surface and come back to bite them. Individuals evolve over time, and earlier electronically recorded conduct and statements may no longer truly define who they are later in life.
So, when should electronic information be purged and when should it be retained? In certain regulated industries, there are legal requirements in terms of minimum times for preserving information and online privacy. And when there is the potential or actuality of litigation, relevant information pertaining to the issues in the case must be maintained.
But what about data retention outside of those spheres or beyond required timeframes within those spheres? Some companies err on the side of retaining information, for fear of being accused of destroying relevant case evidence or information required to be maintained as a matter of law. Other companies prefer, when possible, to dispense with information, so that they are not maintaining more information than needed as a matter of burden and expense. Plus, they may not want their entire information history and communications to be searchable later on.
And then there is the issue of whether individual consumers and users should have a choice - can they tell the companies who maintain their information how long they prefer it to be preserved? On top of all of this is the issue that even when there is the intention to dispense with electronic information, often times, as a matter of technological sleuthing, there are ways to recover previously deleted information.
The dialog in this area is only just beginning.