FNTI offers an expanded and upgraded document redaction service. Enhanced program features include greater redaction capacity and processing speed; a new, integrated business rules engine that can be configured to detect and redact any type of content, and advanced validation logic that enables a more thorough review of redacted elements.
Our redaction process
In modern terms, redaction is a process of removing from or hiding sensitive information in documents. These can include documents in the public record, such as vital records that contain details about births and deaths, land records that may contain personally identifiable information such as Social Security Numbers, telephone numbers and financial information, and court records that can detail sensitive financial and personal information.
Redaction has its roots in 15th century literature. The term was used to describe a form of editing where several original works were consolidated (redacted) and edited to make them as single, authoritative piece. In the process, the person performing the redaction contributed elements of their own, occasionally reshaping the work to support their own beliefs.
Redaction may also be referred to as “sanitization” or “document cleansing”.
Using the contemporary definition of the term “redaction”, information is redacted for the following reasons:
What kind of information is redacted
- To protect individuals’ right to privacy and to prevent identity theft. This involves redaction of personally identifiable information from public record documents.
- In the interests of national security, where documents released by intelligence and law enforcement agencies under the Freedom of Information Act are redacted to protect the confidentiality of individuals, agencies and programs.
- To protect confidential information or intellectual property, such as the redaction of business documents filed with the courts or other public agencies.
- Information may also be redacted to protect the welfare of individuals whose health and well-being may be affected by public disclosure, such as members of the judiciary and law enforcement
Using the modern definition of “redaction”, information that is commonly redacted depends on the redaction mandate.
In cases where states mandate the redaction of personally identifiable data, the information that is redacted may be used to locate, identify or profile an individual in such a way that their right to privacy is inhibited, their welfare threatened, or their financial and personal security is placed at risk.
In national security instances, information that is redacted is at the discretion of the officials who oversee the activity. So, too, is the decision to redact information to protect the welfare of individuals whose personal welfare may be adversely affected through disclosure of personally identifiable information.
Private enterprises and individuals, operating with the advice of legal counsel, determine the information that is redacted or suppressed at the time they file information with the courts or public agencies. This can include information about business processes and methods and sensitive financial data such as project spending and compensation.
Redaction methods range from rudimentary to sophisticate. The particular redaction method used is often a function of volume: how many documents must be redacted and in what period of time?
This is as simple as placing black tape over information to be redacted, or covering the information using a thick, black marker (although the latter is not a sure-fire method. The color of the black marker must be identical to the color of the text it is hiding, or the two colors can be separated to reveal the underlying text).
The advantage of this method is in its thoroughness. Visual inspection and redaction is usually foolproof. The disadvantage is in the number of documents that can be redacted, as this is a fairly laborious process.
Redaction Functionality in Word and Document Processing Software
If the responsibility for redaction falls to the author of a document, he or she may employ redaction functionality available in the software used to produce the document.
Microsoft(R) promotes a free add-in for Microsoft Word(R) 2007 and 2010 that permanently redacts fields highlighted by the user.
Adobe(R) Acrobat(R) began offering a redaction function in version 8 of its popular software. Version X offers a redaction tools that allow you to redact information across pages (useful for redacting information in headers and footers), and to user-specified text boxes as well as images within text.
If you use a redaction function in word and document processing applications, be sure the final document does not contain metadata that may include information you manually redacted.
The benefits of using this method inures to the benefit of those responsible for maintaining and making available documents. By placing the requirement for redaction on the content provider, the responsibility – and the cost – is theirs.
Specialized Redaction Software
There is a growing body of specialized redaction software designed as stand-alone applications and as integrated components of lager document management systems.
The benefit of using specialized redaction software it is usually well-suited for go-forward document redaction, where redaction is a component of the document management and publishing workflow. In addition, there are usually applications designed for specific professions and industries, further complementing workflow.
Redaction as a Service
Some companies, such as FNTI, offer complete turnkey redaction services as an alternative to in-house redaction functions. These can accommodate all types of documents, from paper to microfilm and microfiche (once converted to document images, which is usually a first step in the service), as well as electronic documents exported from content management systems.
The benefits of Redaction as a Service is its high-volume capacity: some companies like FNTI can redact 100,000 or more documents per day. In addition, these services typically provide quality review processes that use automated and manual methods to review redacted areas and correct or amend areas in question.
Redaction as a Service is useful in situations where you have a large volume of historical records that must be redacted thoroughly and quickly, and you lack the manpower to redact the records yourself.
The answer to this question is determined by whether or not you can make redaction a part of your existing workflow. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- How much time will redaction add to workflow? Is it manageable with existing resources?
- How will we quality review redaction steps to ensure redaction is complete? Will the quality review be performed by the individual performing the redaction or by a fresh set of eyes?
- Do you have the subject matter experts to perform redaction?
- How much of the redaction effort can be automated using Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) and pattern detection? Is our software capable of supporting that?
- Do we have the capacity to support redaction efforts if there is a mandate to redact emerging classes of documents or data-types?
If you can leverage technology to automate a portion of the redaction effort and possess the resources and subject-matter expertise to manage redaction volumes without affecting workflow and document availability, then you are likely a good candidate to internalize redaction.
If, however, you’re stretched thin by existing responsibilities, you do not have redaction software that complements your current workflow, or you cannot dedicate resources to support a proper redaction and quality management effort, you should explore outsourcing options.
The benefits to outsourcing the redaction function include:
- Specialization: there are providers who specialize in redaction processes and methods and can support your requirements with minimal training.
- Cost: from a productivity standpoint, it’s possible that an outsourcing partner is equipped to redact large volumes of documents at a low (compared to using internal resources) cost-per-unit.
- Investment: If you require an initial capital investment to acquire conversion equipment, redaction software and associated servers, that investment has already been made by an outsourcing partner. You can likely meet your redaction requirements by paying a variable cost.
- Turn-around time: If your requirements for completing redaction are tight, consider outsourcing, where the ramp-up and training times are minimal and the capacity to process hundreds of thousands of documents per day is already in place.
The Property Records Industry Association (PRIA) provides thought leadership on the issue of redaction in public records.
- The PRIA Redaction Whitepaper, in draft form at the time of this writing, provides thinking on balancing privacy with open public record access, the uses of technology in redaction, and a state-by-state summary of redaction laws. Click here
- This report on Redaction best Practices was made to PRIA Winter Symposium, March 3, 2011, by a team of privacy and redaction specialists. Click here
The U.S. District Court, Northern District of California offers a how-to guide on redacting information using word and document processing software. Click here
The National Reconnaissance Office’s Review and Redaction Guide, released in 2010, provides an interesting look back at the types of information withheld by the U.S. Government for national security reasons. Click here
The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) published this whitepaper: “Privacy, Public Access & Policymaking in State Redaction Practices: Dealing with Sensitive Data in an Era of Open & Accessible Public Records. Though released in August 2007, the document discusses policies and practices in redaction that still reflect modern principles. Click here