Blog – Document Recovery, Document Scanning

What to Know About Chains of Custody & Your Documents

Information, regardless of its form, travels. Knowing how it travels with a well-documented chain of custody gives an organization a better understanding of where confidential documents have been and who handled them from the beginning of a project to the end. In addition to implementing chains of custody for physical documents, it is also possible to use them for electronic records to show the chronological documentation, or paper trail, regarding their guardianship, use, safety, transfer, and analysis. By having a record of all the individuals who maintained unbroken control over documents, they are more likely to maintain their archival integrity and be kept together.

The Benefits of a Document Chain of Custody

  • Reduce the unauthorized altering of information
  • Know the details regarding amendments made to documents
  • Know the chronological history, or provenance, of documents
  • Ensure the provenance of computerized data
  • Have a record of individuals who maintained the documents
  • Data maintains its integrity enough to allow for reproducibility
  • Know where electronic data sets originate
  • Know how data is used and modified
  • Better secure the integrity and confidentiality of information
  • Have better control over who handles the documents

How to Implement Document Chain of Custody Procedures

When implementing chain of custody procedures for documents, it’s best to know the types of sensitive information contained within the documents and the locations of the documents, as well as have established policies regarding who can access the documents.

A simple way to record a document’s provenance is with a chain of custody form that an individual fills out with information such as:

  • The name of the document or file
  • The location from which it was retrieved
  • A description of the document
  • The collecting individual’s name
  • Relevant identification numbers (e.g., employee ID number)
  • The individual’s contact information and the organization they represent
  • The date and time the individual retrieved the document
  • Spaces for those who take custody of the document (e.g., couriers) after the original collector to write their name, contact information, the date and time when custody transferred, and the name of their respective organization

When tracking electronic documents, it is best to use software programs designed to track electronically stored information. To maintain a file’s provenance:

  • Create a server or hard drive that serves as the file’s “forever” home
  • Create folders or subfolders with a copy of the document that authorized individuals can access
  • Mark appropriate files as “read-only” so individuals can view a file’s content’s, but not modify, edit or delete it
  • Create working copies, or working data sets, that are deleted after their use or saved to a specific folder

Off-Site Documents

Just as it is wise to implement chain of custody procedures within an organization for all physical and electronic documents, this type of provenance is vital when shipping documents or electronic devices with sensitive information over any distance.

When choosing a service provider to transport or store your documents, consider:

  • The type of vehicle used to transport the documents
  • The frequency of employee background checks and the provider’s hiring practices
  • The storage environment
  • Security and monitoring systems
  • Fire detection and suppression systems
  • Devices used to track stored documents, such as barcodes labels
  • Emergency document retrieval services
  • The service’s willingness to sign non-disclosure agreements

One of the most important times to maintain the chain of custody of your documents is during and after a disaster. If documents experience damage and require restoration, it is to the organization’s advantage to ensure the restoration specialist guarantees the provenance of the files that they transport and restore. Polygon is an international leader in document restoration. Our services include restoring documents on-site or transporting them to safe environmentally controlled facility insecure vehicles. The chain of custody protocols in place track your documents from the time that they leave your property and return once again. Talk to a Polygon representative today to learn more about the comprehensive restoration solution available and the protocols in place to keep your documents secure. 

[Photo from Bjorn Bulthuls via CC License 2.0]

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