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August 04, 2022 Practice Points

A Quick Redaction Refresher to Avoid Becoming a Newsworthy Example

Redacting documents properly takes time, but it is always worth it to protect confidential information.

By Jamilah Wesley

The history of redaction predates the early seventeenth century with one of the first forms of documented redaction beginning with the translation of the New Testament into English. Traditionally, redaction was understood to mean organization or editing; however, the meaning has shifted significantly over time. Today, we understand the word to mean “to conceal” or “to omit confidential information.” Commonly redacted information now includes Social Security numbers, financial information, formulas, trade secrets, and medical information. Properly redacting information is now vital to keep protected, sensitive information from being revealed.

One area where practitioners may not always remember to mark redactions is in the index of deposition transcripts. A notable example comes from the case of Virginia L. Giuffre v. Ghislaine Maxwell, Case No.:115-cv-07433-RWS (S.D.N.Y. 2016). In Giuffre, the deposition transcript of Ghislaine Maxwell, who is famously tied to the Jeffery Epstein cases, was released by the court, and the published index leaves room to interpret information intended to be concealed. See Case No.: 1:15-cv-07433-LAP (S.D.N.Y 2020). As this was a high-profile case, anyone reading the index with a basic understanding of the involved parties may be able to decipher to whom or what certain redactions are related.

An example was seen in the redaction of a single word between the words “analyzed” and “angles.” If viewed by someone with little background on the case, this may not raise any red flags. But to someone more familiar, one can begin to piece together the redacted word by looking at the corresponding page numbers from the index. For instance, Prince Andrew was identified throughout this case as an associate of Epstein. With that knowledge, alongside the page numbers where the redacted word was, it was not difficult to piece together that a certain redaction may have been referring to Prince Andrew.

To ensure that sensitive information is removed successfully when redacting documents, it is best to use an electronic system. Some law firms still rely on manual redaction techniques such as dark tape or an opaque marker. However, documents with manual redactions can be scanned with scanners containing systems that can distinguish covered words.

Overall, it is important to consider the transcript’s index when redacting deposition testimony for submission, and redacting it properly, to protect the discovery of confidential information. It is also good practice to double-check your redactions. To test your PDF redaction on a computer, redact-highlight right before the redaction starts and end immediately after. Next, copy and paste the highlighted redaction into a Word document. If redacted properly, the text contained under the redaction should not appear.

Redacting documents properly takes time, but it is always worth it to protect confidential information.

Jamilah Wesley is a student at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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