Joining the growing number of states which have enacted laws regulating the destruction of records to prevent possible identity theft, the Rhode Island Legislature passed H. 5092 on October 29, 2009. The bill requires businesses and government agencies to completely destroy records containing personal information, or render the personal information unusable, before disposing of records whether in electronic and paper form. Not surprisingly, H. 5092 comes on the heels of Texas’s Attorney General settling related violations for nearly $1,000,000 with Select Medical, and over $600,000 with Radio Shack.

As with most legislation of this nature, including the FTC’s data disposal rule, the law provides two means by which covered entities may destroy records: either by modifying the personal data to make it entirely unreadable or indecipherable through any means, or by taking reasonable steps to shred, erase, or otherwise destroy records. The bill also exempts certain covered entities whose destruction practices are covered by federal law or who contract with data disposal firms (who would be subject to the data disposal law). The need for such measures is further underlined by the overzealous office workers who used documents containing personal information as “confetti” during the New York Yankees World Series parade. 

Underlying the consequential nature of proper destruction, this bill permits individuals to sue to recover actual damages, and permits the state attorney general to seek fines or sue on behalf of individuals, with each record not properly disposed of being counted as a separate violation.