As regulatory agencies move into the age of technology, electronic reporting has become the required method of data submittal. In fact, some agencies, such as the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board will no longer accept paper reports. As the supply of electronic data continues to grow, so does public access to corporate data. In the past, most of the reporting data supplied to a regulatory agency or their agents was retained in files at the agency and subsequently archived in accordance with Agency retention schedules. The public was required to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to review the data. As a result, facility operational data remained largely confidential. Summary data was often reported to the public by the regulatory agencies to present trends or overall stakeholder compliance, but site specific data was not published.
With almost universal access to the web and an increase in agencies’ posting data, new issues are developing. Facility operators are frequently unaware of information that is publicly available. The data can include operational details prepared to meet compliance requirements but not intended for public use or scrutiny. The data can be downloaded by a public third party and manipulated to misrepresent a facility operation. Citizen lawsuits in which electronic data is the basis of the lawsuit are becoming more common. The data originally submitted by a facility to meet regulatory compliance requirements may subsequently be used against them as part of a lawsuit. More care and thought needs to go into what is being reported and how it is prepared and presented to minimize the potential that this data could come back to bite you.
Protecting your facility from unnecessary exposure to enforcement and lawsuits requires planning and research:
Increasingly more individuals and groups are using electronic data to monitor what your facility is doing. Make sure you know what data is available and how it could be potentially used.
Please contact David Renfrew (firstname.lastname@example.org), or call us at (562) 495-5777, if you would like to know what your electronic exposure may be.