About the expert
Dean Sappey is the DocsCorp CEO and Co-Founder, but he is also a software developer, legal technology thought leader, and a Computer Science graduate from the University of Technology, Sydney. Dean developed pdfDocs, a PDF redaction, and editing tool, over 15 years ago. Today, it is used by some of the world’s leading corporations and law firms.
Q1: I draw a black box over text and click flatten. Is this text redacted?
A: We saw an example of this happen in the Paul Manafort case. A black box was drawn over the text, but the sender didn’t realize the text beneath the box was still there. A journalist discovered he could highlight the text, copy/paste it, and reveal information Manafort’s legal team had intended to keep confidential. Even if the sender had flattened the PDF document, the text would not have been redacted. Flattening a PDF is not the same as burning in a redaction. Flattening simply merges everything onto the text layer, which can be copied despite the black boxes.
Q2: I change the font color to white in Word and save as a PDF. Is this text redacted?
A: This method has the same problem as the black box method. Though the text is hidden or masked, it’s still there. All a reader would have to do is highlight or select all, and the hidden text would be exposed. Masking is not redacting.
Q3: I go back to the original document and replace the text with the word ‘REDACTED.’ Is this text, in fact, redacted?
A: The short answer is, yes, if the text is replaced with a label such as ‘REDACTED,’ then it can’t be highlighted and found. However, this workflow poses problems. Redacting text and distributing the final document in Word isn’t best practice since the text could be retrieved through the document’s metadata and version history. Ultimately, the most accurate and foolproof way to redact is in PDF with a proper redaction software tool that burns out the text completely.
Related: Dean Sappey explains why the redaction blunder in the Paul Manafort case should never have happened.