Privacy

Don’t just throw old electronics in the trash: Dillon

By Mia Clarke, Associate Editor

If Santa left some of the latest electronic gadgets under your tree, think twice about how you dispose of your old ones, says London, Ont. privacy lawyer Peter Dillon.

First of all, says Dillon, partner with Siskinds LLP, electronic devices usually contain hazardous material like heavy metals and carcinogens. Disposing of them properly can prevent these deadly chemicals from entering the atmosphere, landfill and water supply.

Simply throwing them in the trash can also be dangerous to your own personal safety, he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Many of these devices contain a large amount of personal information,” says Dillon. “In the wrong hands, it could be used for identity theft and fraud, which could cost you thousands of dollars and have repercussions for years.”

In addition to the obvious ones — cellphones and computers — the list can also include digital cameras, external hard drives, and gaming consoles, he says. Even some printers and monitors permanently store information and may have slots for data-holding cards and discs that could get left behind.

Sanitizing

“In order to prevent exploitation by criminals, it’s important to ‘sanitize’ the devices, which permanently removes sensitive data,” says Dillon.

“This is very important. It's also prudent to back up your data onto an external storage portal prior to sanitizing. Even if you're not disposing of it, a backup is always a good idea because it allows you to recover information if your device is stolen.”

The method of wiping electronics will depend on the type, he says.

“If you want to permanently delete information from a computer, it’s necessary to use disc-cleaning software, which prevents the possibility of it being recovered. Without this, a cybercriminal would have a greater chance of being able to access your sensitive information,” says Dillon.

For smartphones or tablets, he suggests performing a hard reset, which returns the device to factory settings.

“Most devices have an option for this in the settings,” he explains. “A standard factory reset could be used for digital cameras, media players and gaming consoles as well. You should also physically remove the hard drive or memory card.”

Dillon says devices can also be sanitized by "overwriting."

“This means deleting sensitive information by writing new binary data over the old. It will make it more difficult for criminals to access the original information that is underneath. You should overwrite the entire hard disk and add multiple layers of new binary data to further lower the risk of anyone seeing your files.”

A third way to sanitize your device is by physically destroying it.

“Specialized services are available that disintegrate, burn, melt, or pulverize your computer drive and other devices,” says Dillon, adding that a do-it-yourself version would involve drilling holes into the hard drive.

Once sanitized, he says, the device is ready to be scrapped.

Disposal

The Electronic Products Recycling Association operates regulated recycling programs in nine provinces, including Ontario, says Dillon.

The group’s website can help locate drop-off locations. In Ontario, the following devices can be recycled:

  • Cellular devices
  • Non-cellular telephones
  • Desktop computers
  • Portable computers
  • Computer peripherals
  • Desktop printers
  • Personal/portable audio/video systems
  • Home audio/video systems
  • Home theatre in-a-box (HTB) systems
  • Floor-standing photocopiers/multifunction devices
  • Vehicle audio/video systems (aftermarket)

“It’s important to sanitize your device as well as you can before dropping it off at a recycling centre in order to be as safe as possible,” says Dillon.

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