Let’s face it—redacting documents has never been a lot of fun. In terms of something to look forward to, it probably falls just above getting a root canal. But with new technology, there are ways to make it easier, if not more enjoyable. Using these tools, you can dispatch even large-scale redaction projects with a minimum of pain and drama.
Try these strategies for making redaction a bit easier.
- Do it electronically. Unless you really like the smell of black markers (who needed those brain cells anyway?), there is generally no reason to print and manually redact an electronic document that is most likely to be scanned back onto a computer anyway. First, the computer can search faster than you and is less likely to miss that one reference in the footnote on page 162. Second, the electronic results will look more professional—unless you’re an expert at drawing perfect black rectangles or using redaction tape or white-out to perfectly doctor a document. Consider, too, that recopying for full coverage and scanning back to an electronic image come at a price from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Third, and perhaps most important, when you redact electronically the resulting marked-up PDF is still searchable on your computer, so you can find the words and numbers you’re looking for as needed.
- Use an appropriate redaction application. A good electronic redaction tool allows you to draw area redactions, search for words and phrases, search by pattern (e.g., credit card numbers), add reasons for each redaction, add Bates numbers, and output a new PDF that retains searchability. It also maintains logs of what was redacted and why, in case you need to recall your process or present it to someone else.
- Take time to learn the ins and outs. We’ve all seen those headlines about lawyers who filed what they thought were redacted documents only to see the media quickly undo those redactions and release the full text to the world. Ouch! They all made the same mistake: They created a black or white drawing shape over the text and didn’t check to make sure the underlying text was really gone. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you’re going to redact documents electronically, make sure you’re fully checked-out on the software you’re using so you don’t become a cautionary tale.
- Test and test again. Testing is something I can’t stress enough. So, to check that your redaction works the right way, do this: Open your newly redacted PDF and select the block of text starting just before the redacted area and ending just after it. Copy that text and paste it into a word processing application like Microsoft Word or even Notepad. None of the redacted text should appear.
Any good dentist will tell you that using the right tools in the right way to accomplish a procedure is hugely preferable to the alternative. Redaction is no different.
Christine Musil is Director of Marketing for Informative Graphics, a technology company that provides secure document viewing software and Redact-It electronic redaction software. Christine is a frequent writer and speaker about electronic redaction best practices in the legal industry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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