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September 15, 2010 /How-To's /

Redaction Gone Wrong!

Redaction. The very word makes knowledge workers shudder, especially if they were at the wrong end of redaction done incorrectly (meaning, they thought they had purged information from a digital document, but they in fact had only covered it). Some high profile examples of redaction gone wrong – documents filed during the federal trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, HSBC Bank exposing sensitive bankruptcy data, the TSA leaking data about security screening at airports – all drive the point home.

This excellent article on redaction in The Legal Intelligencer walks through the importance of getting redaction right. Author Kim Walker says it best:

Back in the day, redacting was a breeze. You had a black magic marker, you drew over what you didn’t want your adversary to see and the worst that could happen was you dropped a black magic marker on your tan pants and ruined them. A small price to pay. And unless your adversary hired Superman, they couldn’t see through the black magic marker…

Kim writes for a legal audience but redaction is powerful tool used in the government  and healthcare industries as well. And while digital redaction saves time and gets the job done, there are a lot of common errors that are very easy to make when redacting information from a document.

Let’s review a few:

Common Redaction Errors
in Adobe Acrobat
Common Redaction Errors
in Microsoft Word
Covering Up Information Forgetting to Apply Redactions Covering up Information in Word and Printing to PDF Changing Text to White or Background Colors
In Acrobat, drawing a black box over the text or images you want redacted and thinking this will do the trick. Nope. Those black boxes can be removed by anyone with a simple cut and paste. In Acrobat, properly marking text to be redacted using the redaction tool but not applying it. Skipping the ‘apply’ step means you did not redact anything. In Word, highlighting the text and choosing black as the highlight color. It appears as a black box over the text and the text appears to be redacted. But if you were to highlight that area again and change the highlight color to no color the text appears again. In Word, selecting the text and changing the font color to white. It appears as if the words have disappeared and you can’t see them on the page. But if you were to select the text and choose any color the text would be visible.

Now that we see how not to redact, here are some best practices and tips for correctly redacting information:

Adobe Acrobat (version 8 and 9):

1. Choose View>Toolbars> Redaction

2. Select the Mark for Redaction tool

3. Mark items you want to remove using one of the following methods:

  • Double-click to select a word or image;
  • CTRL as you drag to select a line, a block of text, an object, or an area

4. Click Apply Redactions in the Redaction toolbar

5. Click OK to remove the items. Very important: The items are not permanently removed from the document until you save it!

6. Save the document with a different name, i.e., REDACTED_MEMO.PDF

Acrobat also provides an Examine Document feature that finds hidden information such as metadata, hidden text or comments, and can also flag items that the user covered up using one of the ineffective methods talked about earlier, mistakenly believing the info has been redacted. The Examine Document function can detect and fix these issues.

For more comprehensive how-to’s, step by step videos and other information on redaction best practices, check out my Semi-definitive Guide to Redaction in Acrobat.

… or for regularly updated resources for Acrobat in the legal community, check out:

… or Twitter: @acrolaw


Rick Borstein, Business Development Manager, Acrobat

Categories: How-To's


  • By Bill Winterberg - 3:48 PM on September 17, 2010   Reply

    Rick, thank you for the tips.

    Remember that the redaction feature is included in Acrobat Pro but not Acrobat Standard.

  • By Stacey - 12:30 PM on September 19, 2010   Reply

    Thank you for this one!
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