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Bar News - July 4, 2008


US District Court-District of NH: ECF Tip
ECF TIP: Avoid Inadvertent Disclosure of Redacted Material by Using Proper Redaction Techniques

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2 and Fed. R. Crim. P. 49.1, the parties have an obligation to redact certain "personal identifiers" from both pleadings and court transcripts. There are many different techniques attorneys may use to try and redact or block protected material in electronic documents filed with the court. You should be aware, however, that depending upon the redaction technique used, it is possible that the redacted information may appear to be hidden or blocked in the document but the underlying protected information (metadata still imbedded in the document) may be accessed by technologically sophisticated members of the public.

For example, the highlighter function in Adobe creates a black box over the data, but it merely hides the data. While the "redacted" information is unreadable, the metadata is still imbedded in the document. Anyone can copy the black box, paste it into a word-processing document, and the information under the black box appears. Changing the font color to white for the redacted information also is not effective. Again, the words in the document are not readable, but a savvy user can highlight the blank-looking area, change the text color, and read the "redacted" information.

Fortunately, there are effective means of eliminating this metadata from electronic documents. The simplest method is to omit the information from the original document. For example, a Social Security number can be included as XXX-XX-1234. Commercially-available software also can be used to redact, not just hide, the sensitive information. While the court does not endorse any product, Redax from Appligent is one commercial product widely used by federal agencies. Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Professional is another commercial product having a redaction tool that scrubs the metadata and other information from the document.

In addition to information available on the Internet, the Northern District of California has posted helpful information about redaction on its public website, which can be accessed at https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cand/faq/tips/redacting.htm.




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