Was Terry Pratchett's Data Destruction Plan The Best Way?

Image: Twitter (@terryandbob)

Famed author Terry Pratchett may have shuffled off this mortal coil a couple of years ago but he can still grab a headline. Last week, in keeping with his wishes, a hard drive containing his unfinished work was destroyed. But in true Pratchett fashion, rather than settling for the mundane and sterile world of using software to destroy the data, Pratchett's wish to have his hard drive run over by a steamroller was honoured. But was that the best way to destroy the data?

To be sure, the use of a steamroller makes for a great sight gag. But in this day and age of cloud backups and online storage, we need to think beyond our own computers when destroying data.

If the job of fulfilling Pratchett's wish was left to me I would have:

  1. Used a disk over-writing program to rewrite all the data on the drive with ones and zeroes several times
  2. Ensured that all backups of the data were destroyed
  3. After the steamroller, I'd have gone the extra step of breaking the drive down further

Pratchett's wish was for none of his unfinished work to see the light of day.

Data destruction is a real issue for businesses. Aside from ensuring computers we dispose of aren't sent to second-hand dealers or leasing companies with important or easily recoverable data, privacy rules and the new mandatory breach notification laws that come into play next year mean we need to think carefully about how we permanently erase data.

What do you do about securely deleting data so it can never be recovered?


    The CIA is quite happy to accept hard-drives which have been through diamond-cut shredders for data-recovery.

    So my suggestion is, shred, burn in a high-oxygen flame, scatter the ashes. :)

      I call BS on the diamond shredders recovery.

      but that steamroller action was as much symbolic as anything else.

        but that steamroller action was as much symbolic as anything elseIt was a nice gesture of his.
        And that hard disk looks to be an elderly IDE one... I guess we'll never know what was on it, if anything. Or even if it was the only copy of his unfinished works. Surely no author would keep the sole copy of their work on such an old disk? But you never know.

        I can't confirm the CIA recover stuff off them.
        But I have it from a reputable source that they'll pay for diamond-shredded embassy hard-disks.
        Maybe they just have sufficient funds to make competing embassies paranoid. ;)

    I don't think any author would be stupid enough to use the cloud.

    Some years back the company I worked for was upgrading video conferencing equipment and the manufacturer wanted to get the old equipment out of circulation but they didn't want to pay for it to be shipped back to the US so they offered us a steep trade-in discount on the condition we agreed to destroy the old equipment.

    I realised later that what they wanted was a document from our legal dept saying we had destroyed the equipment but they responded that they all really enjoyed the video I sent them of me running over the video conferencing units with my Jeep and were happy to accept that as proof.

    You are right about all the better ways to erase data. But Pratchett had a *lot* of fans, and some of them would always hold out hope for more stories. This was a funny and visually striking.message to fans that there will be no more Discworld novels. After all, which would you believe from Pratchett's daughter and management: 'we deleted the hard drive' or 'you saw us drove a steamroller over it'?

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