Destroyed Documents May Leave an Information Void

The drifts of office paper littering the streets of lower Manhattan may represent a massive loss of information for several corporations and government agencies:

The destruction of the World Trade Center, a repository of countless reams of information on companies and individuals, has left some organizations reeling from the potential loss of vast quantities of data. Disaster-recovery experts said Tuesday that most of the largest financial services firms routinely back up data and store it in remote locations, ensuring that the bulk of it survived the attack.

But organizations that heavily rely on paper documents and smaller companies that do not routinely back up their information are vulnerable to significant losses. Among those that depend on paper records are attorneys and insurers, both categories that had substantial operations in the twin towers. . .

The Securities and Exchange Commission\’s New York office disappeared in flames in the collapse of Tower 7, adjacent to the taller towers, jeopardizing the agency\’s probes of initial public offerings and other cases. Wayne Carlin, who heads that office, told Bloomberg News that all 320 employees escaped but that he is concerned about evidence destroyed in the fire.

The SEC can ask companies that are under investigation, or have been charged with securities violations, to produce copies of documents they already have given to the SEC, said Carmen Lawrence, who from 1995 to June 2000 led the New York operation. But she added, \”They\’ll have to scrap many cases and start from scratch on others.\”

More from the Los Angeles Times and a related piece from the New York Times.