The Right Way to Redact eDiscovery Productions [And Why Drawing Little Black Boxes Isn't Enough]

17 September 2020 by Anith eDiscovery redaction

Takeaway: Redaction used to be about drawing little black boxes over sensitive text. But that doesn’t work nowadays when you can just cut-and-paste the text out from under those boxes. Instead, you’ll need dependable eDiscovery software that ‘burns in’ the redaction boxes so that the underlying text is completely removed.

‘Redaction’ is the process of removing privileged or private data from documents. And for the longest time, all you needed for it was a thick permanent marker.

There are many things you might want to censor in your case: Privileged client information, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, email addresses, employee ID numbers, and more. The old-school way of doing it would be to:

  1. Print out the document
  2. Use a black marker to cross out the private information
  3. Photocopy the redacted pages a few times (so the underlying text has no chance of showing through)
  4. Re-scan the documents.

Word processing software keeps this simplicity alive with ‘virtual’ black markers.

Lightning-quick search engines will help you find what needs to be redacted. And you’ll use virtual markers to cross out words, and neat black boxes to hide paragraphs and entire pages.

But this do-it-yourself redaction doesn’t really work.

Remember, what you see on your screen isn’t all there is going on. So, just because you see a black box over text, it doesn’t mean the text isn’t there anymore.

  • ‘Virtual’ marker lines are easy to see through. Using a black marker on a paper document is the perfect way of covering up sensitive text. But ‘virtual’ black markers (in Microsoft Word, for example) don’t work the same way. All anyone has to do is use their cursor to highlight the blacked-out lines, and the underlying text suddenly materializes!
  • Black boxes can ingeniously be ‘left behind.’ Lawyers for former Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort, made this mistake. They placed black boxes over sensitive text and the media conveniently copy/pasted all the text into another document. The black boxes were left behind, leaving the redacted sentences clearly visible!

So, what you need is a way to ‘burn-in’ the redactions properly. And for this, you’ll want good eDiscovery software.

Applications like Adobe Acrobat have redaction tools, but they’re not as secure as the ones used by the best eDiscovery applications. With PDFs, for example, it’s often best to save the file to a new name after redacting it. This is an added step that you won’t need with eDiscovery software.

Here’s what to look for when choosing redaction-friendly eDiscovery software.

1. An easy-to-use redaction tool

You want software that keeps things simple. So, black boxes over text are fine, as long as they’re anchored securely. Find an eDiscovery application that lets you click-and-drag your mouse to draw a black box over the sensitive words, sentences, paragraphs and images. Ideally, it should also let you format the redactions – for example, keeping them as black boxes, or making them white boxes with black borders.

2. Whole-page and page-range redactions

You’ll also need to have the option of redacting a whole page and batches of pages. That way, you won’t have to draw black boxes over tens or hundreds of pages manually. Instead, you’ll specify a page range to redact – e.g., from page 16 to page 25.

3. No changes made to native formats

Converting native files to PDFs and TIFFs, and then redacting them is easy, safe, convenient, and cost-effective. Plus, you’ll have the untouched native file and metadata, in case opposing counsel demands them. But when you start modifying the original native files, things can get tricky. For example, if you redact formulas in a spreadsheet, numbers in different columns can vanish as part of a chain reaction. So don’t believe applications that promise truly native redactions.

4. A well-designed redaction ‘manager’

The best eDiscovery applications have a redaction panel to navigate your redactions quickly and easily.

  • It’ll give you a quick overview of your redactions. You’ll see them listed along with details about them – like, if they are full-page redactions or not, if they are across a page range, and how many redaction boxes there are on each page.
  • It’ll let you move smoothly between redactions. So, you won’t waste time clicking through unredacted pages just to get to your next redaction box.
  • It’ll help you remove redactions quickly. You’ll be able to remove multiple redactions simultaneously – for example, getting rid of all redactions on a page, or in a page range.

5. Multiple redaction modes: One for previewing, and one for the final review.

Ideally, you’ll need a final run-through before producing your files. And for this, it helps to have two redaction modes.

  • In the ‘preview’ mode, the redaction boxes will be translucent, so you’ll be able to see and search the underlying text. This is great for internal reviews where you want to overview all the data that will be removed from your case.
  • In the ‘final’ mode, all the redaction boxes become opaque and the underlying text will be permanently removed – so it’s unreadable and unsearchable.

Looking for redactions you can trust? Try GoldFynch.

It’s eDiscovery software that prioritizes things that matter to small and midsize law firms. That’s why:

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. GoldFynch runs in the Cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free trial case (0.5 GB of data and processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s designed, developed, and run by the same team. So you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free. So, on a 1 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 1 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 1 GB, your plan upgrades automatically and you’ll be charged for only the time spent on each plan. That’s the beauty of prorated pricing.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.

Want to learn more about GoldFynch?