Why and How Are Documents Redacted?
Recently, the American public got its first look at special counsel, Robert Muller's to volume report on the investigation into Russian interference in the two thousand sixteen presidential election and some may have been startled to see how much of the four hundred and forty eight page document about seven point two five percents of the text. According to the news, website, FOX had been blacked out by us attorney general William bar, each blacked-out word or passage was labeled with a color coded notation indicating the legal justification for withholding that material these included potential harm to an ongoing legal matter. The need to conceal investigative techniques, personal privacy, and grand jury testimony which generally must be kept secret under rule six of the federal rules of procedure in less judge issues a waiver. The House Judiciary committee, still subpoenaed. The uncensored report and bars. Explanations didn't quell the widespread curiosity about what it was the bar decided that we shouldn't see we spoke with Michael revenue, sqi an attorney, who's an expert and the release of government documents through the freedom of information act. He said, there's something psychological about it. If you see a document with blocked out sections your eyes go to it, and you wonder what's under there. Welcome to the arcane secretive subculture of redaction, which is the practice of removing or concealing portions of documents before publication. It's a phenomenon that most ordinary Americans probably are unfamiliar with as evidenced by the four thousand percent spike in the number of searches for redact and redacted on the Miriam Webster, dictionary website, on the day that bar sent a letter to congress revealing that he would release a redacted version, a Muller's report. But attorneys journalists and historical researchers are custom to blackout spaces on documents as a consequence of dealing with sensitive, subjects redacting has long been part of government imposed secrecy. When former CIA employee Victor Marchetti and his co author, John, D Marx sought to publish a book on the CIA in the early nineteen seventies government censors who had a thirty to review the book under Marchetti employment contract. Redacted one hundred sixteen pages from the text the book was published with blank spaces showing the location of the redacted, passages decades later documents obtained using the freedom of information. Act are still sometimes riddled with blank squares over faces and photographs and black. Bars over words and sentences and sometimes entire pages. But it's not just the government in the legal world attorneys routinely. Redact portions of documents that are to be turned over during the discovery process in civil lawsuits. Those deletions occur in order to protect attorney client privilege attorney's work product for clients commercially sensitive information and information, not relevant to the litigation. Other reductions are required by the courts themselves to protect personal information such as social security numbers from misuse, one of the things about redaction is that, while there are rules about, what should be redacted. There aren't really a lot of hard and fast rules about how to block out that material for years attorneys, and government officials often simply used black markers to conceal sensitive portions of documents, which were then photocopied. So that someone couldn't hold the paper up to the light and read censored words in the mid two, thousands as more and more documents begin to be distributed in the laconic forum, both the government and private sector law firm, started shifting to redacting the digital files themselves using software tools. These days attorneys involved in big. Corporate lawsuits often use e discovery platforms, which allow them to manage massive amounts of documents in which contained tools for redacting portions, though, you can also safely redact information using programs like adobe acrobat pro assuming that you're working with PDF's. But regardless of what technology is used. It's necessary to go through documents individually and figure out what to mask, which is a time intensive process. In the case of the Miller report, Barna staff, apparently, scanned a printed copy of the report, redacted it, and then printed and scanned it again to create a new digital copy that excess of caution resulted in a low quality image that wasn't searchable since then the department of Justice has published a searchable version as well, but digital redaction isn't always foolproof once fisted, high tech method for reading redact words in the document involves analyzing their links, and comparing them to other words with the same length on the page and guardian reporter, John Swain found that he could view redacted text in a court document, and the Paul Manafort case by copying and pasting it into a Microsoft Word document. Matthew Ingram of the Columbia journalism review explained quote this likely happened because someone either drew over the unwanted text with black highlighter tool in Microsoft, Word, or used adobe acrobats reduction tools, but forgot to merge them with the original document. We also spoke with Mark Sade a Washington, DC based attorney who specializes in national security law and frequently deals with productions, he said, I don't trust technology. Even if there's a safety mechanism someone will invent something that overrides it thus Zayd generally shoes, electric reduction, his preferred method is to, quote, literally cut it out with scissors, and then photocopy the page it's a really sloppy looking reduction. But no one will ever see what I cut out in other instances, if he's instructed by the government to redact information from a document. He deletes the text and types, the number of words and deleted, by the request of the CIA in its place, but manual reductions on actual paper can go awry to Zabre calls wants receiving Zimmer redacted documents in a case, and discovering that he could hold them up and read the words to the black ink whoever sent them had provided the original pages, rather than making a photocopy. Zayd says that even when information in court papers is redacted. It's sometimes possible to figure out what's in the blackout sections, the client may be able to identify a witness or piece together, what was said in a discussion in which he or she participated, for example. But generally, they explained that it's not wise to speculate, as even educated guesses can be wrong. He gave the example of a freedom of information act, litigation connected with the DP Cooper sky jacking case, he said, we thought a document pertain to a particular person who is dead. But when Zayd gave the government copy of the man's obituary in an effort to get the full document released the told Zayd he assumed wrong and the document was about someone