What to do when you find illegal items in materials sent for destruction
April 16, 2013
Over the years, I have received a number of calls from members asking about what they should do when they find illegal items in materials sent for destruction. Sometimes it is contraband such as marijuana, other times it is evidence that a crime has been committed such as finding child pornography or photos of weapons.
It is very understandable why secure destruction service providers would be concerned because they are hired to protect information from being exposed. Therefore, informing the authorities of such materials seems a bit like betrayal. Further, any investigation that would be launched afterward could be extremely uncomfortable for not only the service provider, but for any account that may be subsequently contacted. What if the word gets out to the public about how the items were discovered? Does it bring attention to the fact that you or your employees are actually looking at the items you destroy? And, what if it is a fluke? What if there is really no crime and you’re making too much out of it?
Despite all of the concerns, there is only one course of action if such items are found: Inform the authorities immediately. You or your employees cannot unknow something. If a crime has been committed and you did nothing, you are an accessory to that crime. More importantly, if there is evidence that some is being harmed, as in the case of child pornography, the ethical imperative alone is far more important than any concerns you may have.