Redaction Redux – The Nuts and Bolts

Redaction examples seem to be in the news frequently these days.  No surprise really.  Now that the world has gone digital, information is at our fingertips almost as it happens.  We watch history as it’s being made and hear about world events on Twitter before we watch the evening news.  A recent case in point, was the initial release of the news of the mine collapse and the fate of the coal miners in Chile.

Instant information is our trade. No one needs to warn anyone in our profession that if information is to be redacted, well then, it had better be done and done properly.  Take the recent TSA privacy leak for example.  Wired magazine had an informative article about the TSA privacy leak.  The “leaked” May 2008 manual contains the warning: “No part of this record may be disclosed to persons without a need to know.” So far so good.

However, things went terribly wrong when  “The manual was posted as a redacted .pdf document, with sensitive sections blacked out.” The article goes on to say that the “government apparently hasn’t learned from past redaction flubs and merely overlaid black rectangles on the sensitive text in the .pdf, instead of cutting the text itself. Anyone can uncover the hidden text by simply copying and pasting the blacked out portions into another document… One of the redacted sections, for example, indicates that an armed law enforcement officer in or out of uniform may pass beyond the checkpoint without screening after providing a U.S. government-issued photo ID and “Notice of LEO Flying Armed Document.”

Ironically, this sensitive document was posted on a popular government blog, FedBizOps.  Of course, it has since been taken down, but not before lots of followers of the blog read the manual.  Long story short, the full text of a very sensitive document was inadvertently leaked because someone improperly protected the redacted material.

In the case of the HSBC Bank redaction faux pas, Network World wrote  “HSBC Bank says a bug in its imaging software inadvertently exposed sensitive data about some of its customers going through bankruptcy proceedings.” It turns out it wasn’t a bug at all. The software wasn’t used properly.

There are more cases of improper redaction than we have room to write about.  The point is that undoubtedly we will see a dramatic increase in sensitive materials being exposed. The solution?  Good software and more importantly, the knowledge how to use it.

Adobe, the king of pdf software agrees.  So much so that they have a blog specifically devoted to the legal profession.

According to Adobe, some common redaction errors are:

When using Adobe Acrobat

–       Covering up information – If you think drawing a black box over the text or images you want redacted  will work, you are wrong.  The black boxes can be removed  by anyone with a simple cut and past.

–       Forgetting to apply redactions – If you properly mark the text to be redacted using the redaction tool, but you don’t “apply” it, you just guaranteed that it isn’t redacted.

When using Microsoft Word

–       Covering up in Word and printing to PDF – Highlighting the text by choosing black so that it looks like the copy has been “blacked out” does nothing.  Someone else just needs to change the color of the highlight to be able to read the copy.

–       Changing text to white or background color – If you select the font color to be white, or the same color as the background, it will look like the words have disappeared.  Again, all someone has to do is go in and change the font color to something more visible.

The above seem like common sense “not to do” items, but the truth is that it happens every day.  Let’s talk about how to do it right!

Adobe has some very easy instructions to avoid the above redaction errors.  They apply to Adobe Acrobat version 8 and 9.

  • Choose View>Toolbars>Redaction
  • Select the Mark for Redaction tool
  • Mark items you want to remove using one of the following methods:
  1. Double-click to select a word or image;
  2. CTRL, as you drag to select a line, a block of text, an object, or an area
  • Click Apply Redactions in the Redaction toolbar
  • Click OK to remove the items. IMPORTANT – the items are not permanently deleted until you save it.
  • Save the document with a different name

Adobe also has much more information in their Redaction Tips and Techniques for Acrobat 9 .

So often there are no second chances to “get it right”, especially in our profession, which is why we wanted to share this information with you.  It never hurts to have a refresher course when it comes to redaction!

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