2019 may well end up being the year of redaction as it continues to make big headlines globally: The Justice Department Has Clarified Why It Redacted The Mueller Report, Paul Manafort’s Lawyers Tried—and Failed—to Redact This Sensitive Legal Filing, How a Simple Copy/Paste Revealed Explosive New Detail in Manafort’s Case.
DocsCorp, a leading legal technology provider, recently published an industry guide on redaction best practices entitled The Ultimate Guide to Redaction: What Works, What Doesn’t, to educate people about redaction errors. The report looked at why so many legal professionals and others continue to get redaction wrong.
Masking is not redacting
The report concluded that most people mask confidential information in Word and PDF documents with mark-up tools thinking that this is the same as redaction—presumably, what can’t be seen, can’t be read. However, this is not the case. True redaction requires the information to be removed or “burned out” of the document. Only a native PDF redaction tool will do this in a safe and efficient manner.
PDF documents are constructed in layers—for example, text is on one layer and images on another, bookmarks on yet another etc. Thus, simply masking the text or image is not a foolproof method of redaction as you are simply adding annotations to the annotation layer. The text layer remains untouched. Copying the text from the PDF and pasting it into a new Word document will expose the hidden text. Also, flattening a PDF is not the same as burning in a redaction. Flattening simply merges everything onto the text layer, which can be copied despite the black boxes.
The right tool for redaction
So how do you ensure that you have the right tool for the job? Basically, you need a PDF application with a native redaction tool. Only PDF can provide the following safeguards:
Remove content from the document – a PDF redaction tool removes (burns out) the information from the document once the redaction(s) has been applied. It cannot be undone or exposed later because it is no longer in the file.
No metadata – when converting documents to PDF from Word, the metadata is not carried over to the PDF. PDF creators and editors do not generate a lot of document metadata.
Finding the right redaction tool
When looking for a native PDF redaction solution, you need to consider the following 10 must-have redaction features:
- Remove content, don’t mask it: your redaction tool must burn out the text from the PDF to ensure it is completely removed from the document.
- Handle all PDF types: when you examine a PDF file, there is no conclusive way to visually know which PDF format you’re viewing (Text-PDF, Image-PDF, Image-OCR PDF). It is vital that you use an application with tools specifically designed for redaction. The tool must be able to recognize and redact the PDF file accordingly.
- Redact text, graphics, images: your redaction software should be able to permanently remove text, graphics, and images from the PDF document. So, if someone copies the content into another application, the content will not display.
- Search and redact: this feature works much like the find and replace function in Word. Type in a word or string of words to locate them in the document. Then you can apply the redaction to one or all of them.
- Pattern search and redact: this feature enables you to quickly find and redact information in patterns such as credit card numbers, dates, email addresses, and social security numbers.
- Exemption codes to explain redaction: when you redact a word, image or an area of a document, the reader will want to know why this information is blacked out. There are some standard exemption codes that are required by certain courts and other regulatory authorities. However, your software should give you the ability to create your own.
- Redaction review workflow: it is not unusual for redactions to be first marked up by a paralegal or legal assistant and then sent to a lawyer for final approval. The lawyer can then apply the redactions as needed or required.
- Full-page and multi-page redaction: should you want to redact an entire page; your redaction solution should provide you with the ability to redact a full page as well as a range of pages.
- Protect the original document: when the redaction is applied or burned into the PDF document, it should not overwrite the original.
- OCR workflow for paper documents: your PDF application should provide OCR workflows for capturing paper documents copied or scanned and converting them to text-searchable PDFs as part of an automated process.
Once you have found your native PDF tool, you need to educate users on how to use it…
About Dean Sappey
As President and Co-Founder of DocsCorp, Dean has been the driving force behind its global expansion. Dean continues to work closely with key stakeholders to develop new products and ensure that existing applications deliver real benefits to workplaces. Dean devotes time to speaking at international conferences and forums while overseeing DocsCorp’s international operations. Dean was shortlisted for the ILTA Thought Leader of the Year Award in 2015. He holds a Computer Science degree from the University of Technology, Sydney.
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