How NOT to Destroy Employee Personally Identifiable Information

April 25, 2023 at 8:00 am by Amanda Canale

Employee personally identifiable information (PII) is filled with critically private and personal information, such as financial information, healthcare information if provided by the employer, pay stubs, addresses and phone numbers, and more, so it should always be destroyed with the utmost care. 

Before we get to how not to destroy these types of files, it’s important we discuss how long you should keep them for. When it comes to personnel records, retention periods can vary. For instance, the Department of Labor Correspondence and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) require any financial statements, documents from the IRS and Department of Labor Correspondence themselves, and plan and trust agreements to be kept three to four years, or even longer depending on the case.

However, when it comes to normal employee files, applications, contracts, and other employee personal information, they should be kept for two to three years from the date of termination. What about their compensation documentation? Keep these on file for three to five years from the termination. (This is important to remember!)

Now, let’s get to the fun part – the destruction!

Ripping Up

While ripping paper into confetti-sized pieces can be a great way to relieve some stress, we don’t necessarily recommend this tactic when getting rid of your most recent fire’s employee file. Even if you weren’t too crazy about your coworker, if not destroyed with high security end-of-life destruction equipment, their information could easily fall into the wrong hands, and your coworker could be the next to fall victim to identity theft – which nobody deserves. Don’t believe us? Take for instance the DARPA Shredder Challenge, where people quite literally competed to reassemble 10,000 shred particles for a large grand monetary prize. While the average person would much rather do anything else than spend 600 hours putting shred pieces back together, the same cannot be said for hackers and thieves; if it’s going to grant them access to your most sensitive information, then chances are they will rise to the occasion!

Shredded paper with text.

Recycling and/or Throwing Away

While we support the green initiative in wanting to recycle end-of-life PII documents, unfortunately this isn’t possible. Again, if it’s not a good idea to rip up your employee’s files, it’s not safe to simply throw it out or recycle. Sadly, the majority of our waste and recycling ends up in landfills and dumpsters which are typically gold mines for hackers and thieves. In addition, recycling and waste are not always transported securely, which makes it easy for people to intercept and have access to your most private and identifiable information.

It is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to end-of-life data destruction. When it comes to specifically destroying employee files, it is best practice to use a secure, in-house method, like our Model 244/4 high security paper shredder. 

The Model 244/4 is our most popular high security paper shredder. Why? This solution is NSA evaluated and listed by the NSA/CSS EPL and meets DIN 66399 Level P-7 standards. Our 244/4 provides a rugged performance with an NSA one hour durability of 17 reams per hour while encased in a quiet system, making it the perfect choice for small or mid-size department use. 

Want even more security? Our Model 344 offers an even more secure shred size than the current mandate for the National Security Agency (NSA) requires. We like to call the 344’s final particle size as P-7+. This device is the only high security paper shredder on the market that offers a particle size of 0.8mm x 2.5mm (that is 50% smaller than the current National Security Agency requirement!) 

By adopting a shredding policy, you are making the most cost-effective, safe, and secure decision to take preventative measures to ensure that your past and current end-of-life employee information does not fall into the wrong hands.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Destruction: What’s the Difference?

April 17, 2023 at 2:36 pm by Amanda Canale

As with most new technology, ideas, and solutions, there are pros and cons. In this month’s blog, we’re breaking down the main similarities and differences between centralized and decentralized destruction environments.

Centralized Environment

A centralized environment is, essentially, one space where all of the magic happens. Whether it is a centralized record center or destruction environment, everything that happens and everything being stored are in one location. 

For example, let’s refer back to our Level 6 Data Centers: Best Practices in Security blog. The sixth level of the Google data center is known as a centralized destruction environment because all the destruction occurs in one, central space. At this level, security is at an all-time high, with very few personnel having access. 



Another example of a centralized environment, but in this case a record center, is a single space where all records are kept. It could be a doctor’s office where all patient files are kept or a cloud-based system where all files and documentation are stored. Since centralized environments hold a substantial amount of information, they are typically organized by separate teams or personnel with a very high level of clearance.


One main pro when it comes to a centralized environment, in this case destruction, is that all of your destruction occurs in one place. There isn’t a concern for whether a drive was left on someone’s desk or an end-of-life document was misfiled since there is a system in place that requires all end-of-life drives and documentation to be in one place at the same time. This allows for a highly organized destruction plan and seamless organization system.

With a centralized environment typically comes extra security (remember, all your eggs are in one basket!), which just adds an additional level of protection. This can be in the form of more security cameras, keypads and ID badges, physical security guards, and more. Not only do centralized environments come more protected, they also allow for more opportunities for control.


By putting one’s eggs all in one basket, while it offers a sense of control and safety, it can also have its drawbacks. Hypothetically speaking, if someone was able to breach that centralized location, they have the world at their fingertips since everything is in one place. Servers can be hacked into, destruction solutions can be tampered with, and precious information can easily be stolen. However, this is also why extra security measures are taken, whether the environment is centralized or not.

Decentralized Environment

On the contrary, a decentralized environment is where all of the records or destruction occurs across multiple rooms, spaces, or even floors. A decentralized environment could be the same doctor’s office mentioned earlier, but where patient personal health information (PHI) is kept spread out among various storage locations, workstations, multiple servers, etc. 


Decentralized environments allow for data to be stored in more than one place offering more accessibility, and allowing those who need to access the data to be closer to it. By having their data in multiple and closer locations, there’s no need for long walks across the data center or building, or extra physical layers of security.

Depending on how sensitive the information is, a decentralized record center can sometimes offer more protection since there are multiple points of access and entry, which mean more opportunities for a hacker to fail.


With multiple points of entry and access, also come…more money. Decentralized networks, destruction, or record environments require more upkeep, more maintenance, more storage, and more security. 


The consequences of improper data destruction are endless. By opting for in-house, centralized destruction, companies have complete oversight and can be certain that your information has been securely destroyed.  At SEM, we offer an array of various high-quality NSA listed/CUI and unclassified data destruction solutions, and are experts in designing and creating, implementing, installing, and servicing centralized destruction facilities across the globe. Whether it’s for the federal government, one of their agencies, or a commercial data center, we do it all. Learn more about our scalable and customizable solutions here. 

Paper Shred Sizes (and What They Mean)

March 30, 2023 at 2:14 pm by Amanda Canale

When destroying any end-of-life data, whether it be paper, hard drives, solid state drives, or other forms of media, there are very strict guidelines and laws that address how classified, top secret, and controlled unclassified information (CUI) should be disposed and securely destroyed. These requirements are determined by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

For further context, the NSA mandates specific final particle sizes for top secret and/or classified data, regardless of the media form. They then evaluate and list end-of-life data destruction solutions that follow these mandates for destruction. (For a list of media destructions solutions evaluated and listed by the NSA, click here, and for more information what each data classification type really means, click here.)

While the federal government and government organizations are strict when it comes to how one should destroy end-of-life information, commercial companies and industries like healthcare, finance, banking, and more, are less stringent with their destruction instructions, with some left open to interpretation. 

Enter the DIN Standards. Also known as Deutsches Institut für Normung, DIN originated at the German Institute for Standardization in 1917 as a non-government organization that serves as the national standard when it comes to improving the rationalization, safety, environmental protection, and quality assurance between the government and the public. DIN is not often mandated but their guidelines serve as a widely accepted global standard while providing clarity to otherwise vague end-of-life information destruction mandates. 

DIN 66399 standards specifically provide end-of-life destruction particle size guidelines for information that resides on a wide range of media – including paper – and that specifies protection categories. (You can find more in-depth information about DIN standards here.) 

Even as we get further and further into the Digital Age, there is still such a high demand for paper. Some may say that paper is dead, but we know that paper will never really be dead. While the industries I listed above are not holding government secrets, they still store a lot of their sensitive and unclassified information on paper; information that needs to be securely destroyed or could result in severe consequences if it lands in the wrong hands.

Now that you have all of this background information, let’s get into why you’re here – what constitutes as a secure paper shred size? 

Seven Specific Security Levels 

P = Paper media requirements

Protection Category

Media Paper

Security Level

Security Level Particle Size Requirement

Class 1



12mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 2,000mm²

Class 1



6mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 800mm²

Class 1



2mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 320mm²

Class 2



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 160mm² with a maximum strip width of 6mm = 6 x 25mm

Class 2



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 30mm² with a maximum strip width of 2mm = 2 x 15mm

Class 3



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 10mm² with a maximum strip width of 1mm = 1 x 10mm

Class 3



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 5mm² with a maximum strip width of 1mm = 1 x 5mm

Here’s what each of these security levels look like:

DIN Level P-2 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-2 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-3 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-3 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-4 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-4 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-5 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-5 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-6 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-6 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-7 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-7 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-7+ Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-7+ Paper Shred, a 50% smaller particle size than NSA mandate for paper, produced by SEM Model 344.

As you can tell based on the table and photos above, P7 is the smallest, most secure particle size (aside from the 0.8mm x 2.5mm particle from our Model 344, which is half the size mandated by the NSA for classified paper). Essentially, the smaller the particle, the harder it is to put back together. 

Why would you want to put a bunch of paper shreds back together? To get top secret information, of course! 

Allow us to introduce the DARPA Shredder Challenge. The challenge was created by a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense back in 2011. The DoD invited top computer scientists and puzzle enthusiasts to essentially reconstruct paper shreds for a grand prize. 

The challenge ended when the winning team, who went by the name, “All Your Shreds Belong to US”, created an algorithm that automatically reconstructed the 10,000 pieces of paper based on various physical aspects of the shred, such as shred angle, shred size, and paper marks. Other teams used strategies ranging from crowdsourced-style methods to relying heavily on manual reconstruction. 

When it comes to end-of-life data destruction, it is always best to err on the side of caution. By opting for in-house data destruction methods, you and your company or agency are making the most cost-effective, safe, and secure decision. At SEM we have an array of high-quality NSA listed/CUI and unclassified paper shredders to meet any regulation and mandate, ensuring all of your end-of-life paper stays end-of-life. Any one of our exceptional sales team members are more than happy to help answer any questions you may have and help determine which machine will best meet your destruction needs.