Redaction - Part I

BLOG – Redaction – Part I

A colleague and I have created a CLE covering Redaction. The CLE is intended to (a) bring newer attorneys up to speed about when they are (legally or ethically) required to redact content and (b) clarify how redaction works at a technical level. This is the first of several posts that discuss key concepts I’ve extracted from the CLE program.

Lets start here: What is Redaction?

A simple enough question but with changes in technology and the tools we use to create content, so have there been important changes in what redaction means. When paper was the primary means of transmitting documents, it was usually good enough to mark the paper as a way to remove (or hide) content. Even this simple method wasn’t always reliable since different colors and types of ink could reveal the covered text when holding a page up to the light (the ethics of this is an entirely different topic).

Today the primary means of transmitting documents is electronically and redaction is no longer a simple matter of “covering” content. As defined by Adobe: “Redaction is the process of removing data from a page. With printed pages, redaction involves blacking-out or cutting-out areas of the printed page. With electronic documents that use formats such as PDF, redaction involves removing (not just obscuring) content within a region.” PDF Redaction: Addendum for the PDF Reference, sixth edition, version 1.7: Adobe Systems Inc: November 2006, pg 2

Remove is the operative word here. There are a number of reasons why this is true – and we’ll discuss those in a future blog but the logic is simple enough – the recipient cannot discover or recover that which is not there. Users must be certain that the tool they’re using removes content identified for redaction whenever working with electronic documents – and unless your PDF content solution explicitly says that it can redact – it probably cannot.

The NSA was so concerned with this issue that they published a document describing in detail how to redact a WORD document BEFORE its converted to PDF (Note that the NSA document was created before good PDF redaction tools were widely implemented) – see Redacting with Confidence: How to Safely Publish Sanitized Reports Converted From Word 2007 to PDF, Architectures and Applications Division of the Systems and Network Attack Center (SNAC) Information Assurance Directorate; March 2008

In the next blog on this topic, we’ll consider the structure of PDF files as a container and the impact on the redaction process, and will outline some best practices to consider when managing redactions.