Advanced scanning technology makes it possible to reconstruct documents previously thought safe from prying eyes, sometimes even pages that have been ripped into confetti-size pieces. And although a great deal of sensitive information is stored digitally these days, recent corporate scandals have shown that the paper shredder is still very much in use.



“People perceive it as an almost perfect device,” said Jack Brassil, a researcher for Hewlett-Packard who has worked on making shredded documents traceable. If people put a document through a shredder, “they assume that it’s fundamentally unrecoverable,” he said. “And that’s clearly not true.”



In its crudest form, the art of reconstructing shredded documents has been around for as long as shredders have. After the takeover of the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranian captors laid pieces of documents on the floor, numbered each one and enlisted local carpet weavers to reconstruct them by hand, said Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. “For a culture that’s been tying 400 knots per inch for centuries, it wasn’t that much of a challenge,” he said. The reassembled documents were sold on the streets of Tehran for years.

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