If your organization is implementing or planning a Digital Transformation project which involves converting paper documents to digital format, there are several things you need to be aware of. Since regulatory requirements related to privacy and security of personal data are becoming much more stringent, you need to ensure that your digital files are archived in a legally compliant manner.

There is a big difference between “Digital Storage” and a “Legal Archive”. To ensure that the privacy of your data is adequately protected and to guarantee compliance, you must demonstrate to the authorities that your Digital Archive is, in fact, a Legal Archive.

What is Legal Archiving?

What distinguishes a digital archive from digital storage is that digital storage relies on saving scanned documents in a particular location or network folder. Digital archiving relies on strict rules and procedures for scanning, indexing and archiving documents in a secure and well-structured manner.

A digital archive that complies with all legal and contractual requirements is a legal archive. A legally compliant digital archive can actually replace your paper archive. Organizations that legally archive digital files often proceed to destroy paper originals. This is not possible if you rely solely on digital storage.

Legal archiving requirements cover several key areas, such as: secure storage and retrieval of digital documents, revision-proof archiving with version control, protection of sensitive data from unauthorized access, secure integration with IT applications, compliance with document retention policies, destruction of documents in accordance with privacy rules, etc.

Legal Archiving – Key Considerations

Before you entrust your documents (and especially confidential records) to an IT systems vendor, ask them whether their solution complies with local regulatory requirements for your industry. Most importantly, find out how exactly their solution addresses these requirements and translates them into a legally compliant digital archive. Important questions to ask include (but are not limited to) the following:

Secure Storage & Accessibility

  • Are all digital documents and their metadata (indexes) stored in a secure archive or are they simply saved somewhere?
  • Is every document stored in its original format as well as in an unalterable non-proprietary format (such as TIFF or JPEG) to guarantee future accessibility?
  • What technical security measures are applied to archiving each document and its indexes (e.g. database encryption, container files, Hash256, etc.)?

Full-proof Archiving

  • Are documents archived in a revision-proof format? Is there version control? This prevents various forms of document modification and tampering.
  • Are blank pages archived or discarded? Discarding blank pages may have legal consequences. For example, you must be able to prove that a “missing page” of a contract is, in fact, a blank page (especially if paper originals are no longer available).
  • Are documents archived both, in black-and-white and colour? Certain documents may be illegible in colour but legible in black-and-white (or vice versa). Both are needed to prevent potential loss of data.

Document Access & Audit Trails

  • How will your staff search for and find the documents they need?
  • How can you ensure that only authorized personnel can access certain documents?
  • Is it possible to control who can view, edit, print, forward, export documents?
  • Is it possible to track who accessed which document, when, and what they did with it?

One important point to remember is that legal archiving is a long-term strategy. It helps ensure that your digital documents are safe, secure and always accessible – today, tomorrow, next month, or 50 years from now.