As a legal professional dealing with critical legal documents on a daily basis, you know well the challenges and risks associated with masking private details in your filings.
We’ve discussed before the best way to correctly redact a PDF in Adobe Acrobat. Now, we’ll dive a little deeper into why this matters so much and how you can avoid making headlines with redactions one way or another.
What is redaction?
Common in court documents and within the government, redaction is to hide or remove (confidential parts of a text) before publication or distribution, or to examine (a text) for this purpose.
Redaction is important because it can shield an individual’s personal data, like social security numbers, names of minor children, and financial account numbers, by removing them from public legal documents to ensure privacy.
History of redactions
The federal government’s intelligence and other agencies have “redacted” some unlikely information from the public. This includes:
- A way to open sealed letters without detection from WWI (declassified in 2011)
- A formula for “Secret Writing”— making and revealing Germany’s invisible ink during WWI (declassified in 2011)
- The redacted version of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s comments about the Cuban Missile Crisis (released in 2014)
Incorrect ways to redact
Once, redacting was as simple as taking a black Sharpie to the classified lines. (Although even that clearly had its challenges.) Here are a few of the ways NOT to redact:
Changing to white font
Because we’re usually using a white background on a PC or white paper, changing the pertinent text white makes the words seem to disappear. However, that’s not always the case. And anyone else can change the font back to black or blue and see your “redacted” text.
Blacking out with comment tools
There are tools available on several suites of products. A user can make edits that can black-out, cover over or remove sections of text. But again, this isn’t secure and the change can still be undone to show the text underneath.
Have you ever heard of the term “metadata”? Think of it as a digital document’s DNA. These programs retain embedded and hidden code, known as metadata. This code has the documents’ revision history and other information.
Metadata can reveal nearly anything that was in the file at any point—even text that was previously deleted or changed, and even if the file was resaved. This metadata can be very helpful for keeping track of revisions. However, if it’s not purged from the document, anyone with access to the document can view deleted information (even after it’s been converted to PDF).
There have been more than a few redaction fails before the now-infamous Manafort debacle. From Facebook plans to sell user data to accessible names of white nationalist leaders, incorrect redactions have impacted individuals and groups in a variety of ways.
The best way to redact
Although there are ways to redact in Microsoft Word, it is better to add this step in Adobe Acrobat DC as you’re making the final changes to your PDF before filing.
Step 1: Visit the Tools menu and select Redact
Step 2: Select Mark for Redaction > Text & Images
Step 3: Select the text you want to redact and Acrobat will highlight in red
Step 4: Confirm your selection and click Apply, then OK on the warning that pops up
This is a permanent removal, so be certain before finalizing.
Read more: How to correctly redact a PDF>>
How do I confirm my document is properly redacted?
Check to make sure that you successfully removed sensitive information or references to confidential details before finishing your document.
Select Mark for Redaction > Find Text to open up a search box on the left. There you can search for the numbers, names, or words that you chose to redact.
If details remain after the redaction, you’ll have the opportunity to take care of those one last time before filing.
If your law firm regularly files court documents electronically, or you handle sensitive and confidential information in your business, you’ll want to be sure that you are redacting correctly.