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How to redact a document?

Contents

Securing Your Customer’s Data with Redaction

Redacted document in English with censored words blacked-out.Securing customer data is critical in building trust. Safeguarding confidential information in emails, documents, and other communications from accidental exposure is essential. Document redaction is the ideal tool to secure that information. Let’s explore how redaction can protect your customers and elevate your data security practices.

Redaction is the process of deliberately removing sensitive information from a document before sharing it with others. This can involve blacking out text such as names and addresses, masking financial data, or even blurring faces in images. Document redaction helps protect privacy, prevent data breaches, and comply with regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It is like a digital eraser, ensuring confidential details remain hidden while the rest of the document stays intact.

Understanding the Need for Redaction

Legal Requirements and Compliance

Redaction is often mandated by various legal and regulatory requirements. For example, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5-2 requires court filings to redact Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, names of minors, dates of birth, and home addresses.1 Organizations must ensure their redaction practices align with relevant laws and regulations to maintain compliance.

Risks of Improper Redaction

Failing to properly redact sensitive information can lead to significant consequences. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice inadvertently exposed the names of uncharged individuals in court documents due to improper redaction.2 In another case, Citigroup faced issues when it failed to adequately redact customer data in bankruptcy filings, exposing Social Security numbers and birth dates for 146,000 customers.2 Such incidents highlight the reputational and legal risks associated with redaction failures.

Redaction in a Digital World

HIPAA violation inscription on a piece of paper.In today’s digital world, the volume of sensitive data created, shared, and stored in communications on a daily basis is staggering. By 2025, the global datasphere is predicted to reach 175 zettabytes (a trillion gigabytes!) according to IDC.3 A single security incident can have devastating consequences. Breaches of sensitive data can lead to significant fines, legal consequences, and reputational impacts. Redaction is crucial for safeguarding your customers’ sensitive data.

But how do you efficiently redact high volumes of documents while maintaining usability and the integrity of the remaining information?

Gartner Identifies Top Five Trends in Privacy Through 2024

Solution Overview

Beyond Black Boxes: Automating Document Redaction for Efficiency and Compliance

Traditional redaction methods, such as blacking out text or PDF text deletion are not practical when managing large volumes of documents. They are inefficient and prone to errors, which can lead to potential data breaches and compliance issues. Some methods, like changing text color to white or deleting sections, are not foolproof as the redacted content may still exist in document metadata.2

Redacted document in English with censored words blacked-out.Redacting millions of documents requires a secure, efficient and scalable solution – one that will protect data throughout the document lifecycle. Automated redaction solutions enable users to accurately and efficiently identify and remove sensitive data across various document formats and channels (PDF, AFP, HTML, Accessible PDFs, Images, Word, etc.). An automated solution intelligently analyzes the documents, preserving their overall structure and content, while safeguarding sensitive data. This helps organizations eliminate tedious manual work, saving valuable time and resources while gaining peace of mind that they remain compliant with relevant data privacy regulations.

Efficiency at Scale: Key Features for High Volume Document Redaction

Choosing a robust redaction tool is critical for high-volume communication providers. The solution should support multiple formats, flexible redaction methods, and batch processing for maximum efficiency. Below are recommended features and capabilities needed to achieve secure, streamlined redaction.

  • Multiple formats: Supports your current document formats and other industry standard formats (PDF, AFP, PS, HTML, Accessible PDF documents, etc… ) to support future business requirements.
  • Multiple Redaction options: Supports various redaction methods including blackout, masking, pattern matching, scrambling, redaction zones, etc…
  • Version control: Tracks and manage different redaction versions
  • Batch redaction: Redact multiple documents at once for increased efficiency
  • Audit trails: Ensure transparency and compliance with comprehensive audit details on all redaction activities.

How to Redact a Document: Step by Step Guide

Redaction isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The approach and implementation will depend on the types of documents, their level of sensitivity, and your specific requirements. Below is a breakdown of six key steps to ensure comprehensive protection of your valuable data:

Identify the confidential and sensitive information that needs to be redacted

Cyber security hologram with digital shield 3D renderingThis will depend on the type of document and will typically include:

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII): Names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.
  • Protected Health Information (PHI): Medical records, health insurance details, etc.
  • Financial Data: Account numbers, credit card details, tax data, etc.
  • Confidential information: Trade secrets, proprietary data, legal documents, internal communications, employee records, and any information not meant for public eyes.
  • Restricted information: Government documents, classified information, and any data protected by specific regulations like HIPAA or GDPR.

Select the redaction method based on content and compliance requirements

  • Blackout: Cover the protected/confidential information with a black bar or dark boxes. Not only can these redaction marks be visually distracting, they may be susceptible to skilled hackers.
  • Masking: Replace confidential information with other characters or values, preserving the format and structure of the original file or original document.
    Close-up of banking statement with Masked Account Number
    Another form of masking data is scrambling. This method replaces the original text with random characters, making it unreadable while preserving the document structure. This method is ideal for a communication provider that requires third party testing or approval.
    Closeup of Banking Statement showing side-by-side comparison of original address on the left and scrambled address on the right.
  • Encryption: Information is converted into a coded format that requires decryption keys for access, thereby limiting the access to those with a key. Some data privacy regulations mandate encryption for specific circumstances such as PCI-DSS, which mandates strong encryption for credit card numbers and other sensitive information at rest and in transit.
  • Deletion: Permanently remove the information from the document. This provides the highest security but typically alters the document context. Proper tools must be used to ensure the deleted data is not recoverable from metadata.

Configure your Redaction Rules, Test & Review

  • Establish rules to automatically identify and redact sensitive information based on your predefined criteria.
  • Run the automated rules-based redaction process
  • Review the documents to confirm masking /scrambling of sensitive data and ensure document integrity is maintained

Finalize and Secure

  • Save the redacted documents as a new file in a secure format with limited access permissions. Preserve the original document or the original file to ensure traceability.
  • Maintain audit logs of redaction activity for compliance purposes.

Here is an example using Crawford Technologies Operations Express Redaction Capability & PRO Designer GUI

  1. Start: Open project based on specific document formats (PDF, AFP, PS, etc.)
  2. Establish redaction rules: Set rules to automatically identify sensitive information based on location, pages, triggers, patterns, or regular expressions.
  3. Customize redactions: Choose how sensitive information is redacted (Masking, scrambling/text replacement) and adjust (size, shape, color).
  4. Process and review: Run redaction and review for accuracy.
  5. Audit trails: Generate audit trails of redaction activities for compliance reporting.
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Redacting Paper vs Digital Documents

While the Crawford Technologies Operations Express Redaction Capability & PRO Designer GUI example focuses on digital redaction, it’s important to note that paper document redaction follows a different process.4 For paper documents, redaction typically involves cutting out the text to be redacted or using opaque tape to cover the redacted sections before scanning the document. 4 Organizations should have processes in place to handle redaction for both their physical and digital document workflows.

Building a Secure Document Lifecycle: Strategies for Redaction at Every Stage

Building a secure document lifecycle with redaction implemented at every stage is essential for safeguarding data and mitigating risk.

  • Document Creation: Integrate redaction tools into document creation workflows to secure information during document creation. This can be beneficial to secure highly sensitive information.
  • Post-Composition: Revise and redact documents while maintaining version control. Redaction of documents after creation avoids duplicating the effort of applying templates multiple times during composition. For high-volume processing, redaction at this phase improves efficiency, centralizes control and simplifies integration with existing workflows.
  • Delivery and Storage: Secure delivery methods and encryption controls should be implemented for all documents. Establish access controls and audit logs to ensure secure storage and retrieval.
  • Retrieval and Sharing: Ensure authorized access and proper redaction protocols when sharing documents with external parties.
  • Internal Training: Regularly train your staff on security best practices, regulatory compliance, and data privacy policies.
  • Audit and Cleanse: Regularly review your redaction practices, track document access logs, and securely dispose of outdated documents when no longer needed.

Establish Data Breach Response Protocols

Establish a comprehensive breach response plan to ensure a coordinated course of action to minimize impact and speed recovery. The plan should include the following key steps: Detection & Containment, Notification and Communication, Remediation & Recovery, Documentation & Review. Ensure the plan aligns with industry regulations or legal requirements.

Redacting other Formats

OCR Redaction

A group of cars on a road with redacted license platesOptical Character Recognition (OCR) extracts data and text from documents and images, automatically redacting specific names, addresses, or financial information with pinpoint accuracy. Combine OCR software like Adobe Acrobat Pro DC with tools like Regular Expressions to search and redact specific text patterns can be a cost-effective option for basic needs.

Audio Redaction

Advanced speech-to-text technology identifies and mutes specific words or phrases within audio recordings, protecting confidential or sensitive details in interviews and legal proceedings.

Image Redaction

AI-powered image recognition detects and redacts specific elements within images, like trademarks, logos, or confidential product features. Common elements redacted in images include license plates (which can be used to track individuals 5 and faces (to protect individual privacy).5

Video Redaction

A combination of tools are deployed for redacting videos. Video editors utilize pixelation and masking tools to blur faces and objects. Al-powered algorithms can also detect and blur faces, mute word and recognize objects for automatic redaction. Some jurisdictions require the redaction of certain elements like weapons in video content.5

When to Redact documents?

Redact now or redact later? The best timing for redaction will depend on the type of document, data sensitivity and processing workflows. Understanding the trade-offs between efficiency and flexibility at different stages is key.

The best timing for redaction depends on your specific workflows, tools, and priorities. Analyze your needs and choose the approach that offers the best balance of efficiency, consistency, and format compliance.

Align Redaction Practices with Data Privacy Regulations

Industry specific compliance regulations that mandate redaction

Judge's gavel on a computer keyboard“By year-end 2024, Gartner predicts that 75% of the world’s population will have its personal data covered under modern privacy regulations. This regulatory evolution has been the dominant catalyst for the operationalization of privacy,” said Nader Henein, VP Analyst at Gartner.

For communication providers, navigating the continuously evolving world of data privacy regulations can be overwhelming. A critical aspect of compliance with these regulations is redaction. These regulations apply to different data types and industries.

Research industry-relevant regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA and PCI-DSS. Ensuring your policies and processes meet these various regulatory compliance requirements will be key not only to safeguarding customer data but also to protecting your business.

GDPR LogoGDPR Compliance through Document Redaction:

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to any organization processing the personal data of EU citizens, regardless of the processor’s location.
  • GDPR mandates the redaction of personal identifiers when sharing data, when disposing of documents or when individuals request their right for erasure. Redaction should be permanent and irreversible.
  • Documented procedures and audit trails are required to prove compliance.
  • Personal identifiers include all personal data:
    • Names
    • Addresses
    • Emails
    • Social security numbers

HIPAA LogoRedaction requirements for HIPAA

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), passed in 1996 and updated in 2009 with the HITECH act, applies to all Health providers and businesses that collect or process Patient Health Information (PHI).
  • The privacy rule protects individually identifiable health information including:
    • Patient names
    • Geographical elements
    • Dates related to the health or identity of individuals
    • Telephone numbers
    • Email addresses
    • Social security numbers
    • Medical record numbers
    • Health insurance beneficiary numbers
    • Account numbers
    • Certificate/license numbers
    • Digital identifiers, such as website URLs
    • IP addresses
    • Biometric elements, including finger, retinal, and voiceprints
    • Full face photographic images
    • Other identifying numbers or codes

CCPA LogoCCPA and Redaction Requirements

  • Grants California residents the right to request redaction of their personal information from business records. Organizations must be able to verify that secure redaction methods are used to prevent unauthorized access to redacted data.

PCI-DSS LogoPCI-DSS Redaction

  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is a global standard that ensures the secure handling of cardholder data. It applies to:
    • any entity that stores, process or transmits payment account data handling credit card data
    • entities that accept or process payment transactions
    • developers and manufacturers of software and devices used in those transactions.
  • PCI-DSS requires that documents only display the last four digits of a credit card number. Other sensitive data such as cardholder name and expiration dates must be redacted.
  • PCI-DSS can also be used to protect against threats and secure other elements in the payment ecosystem, such as data encryption.

Redacting Public Records: Balancing transparency with data privacy in government documents.

PII redaction from public records requires balancing transparency with individual privacy. Information contained in various public records may need to be publicly accessible, however, personal information such as Social Security numbers and addresses should be redacted to protect citizens’ privacy. Organizations managing documents containing this information need to utilize effective tools to ensure compliant redaction practices.

Common Redaction Misunderstandings & Mistakes

One-size-fits-all

Different data types and document purpose will require different redaction methods.  Unique redactions methodologies may be necessary depending on the content.

For example:  For 3rd party testing and approval, two methods may be deployed.

The account number is masked:

Close-up of banking statement with Masked Account Number

The address block is scrambled:

Closeup of Banking Statement showing side-by-side comparison of original address on the left and scrambled address on the right.

Automated redaction is foolproof

Automated redaction is significantly more secure than manual methods, however, it is important that users review the results to ensure the documents have been accurately redacted.  This includes ensuring that the integrity of the document is maintained.

Redaction is a one-time process

To ensure robust data protection, redaction needs to be a regular practice. Documents need reviewed on a regular basis for updates that could impact confidential data.

Mixed Methods = Mixed Results

Inconsistent redaction methods across documents and workflows can result in PII vulnerabilities. It is important to implement standardized redaction practices across all workflows.

Redaction Addresses ALL data security needs

Redacted information is just one measure to protect data.  Redacted data can be compromised by improper or unsecure file storage, transmission and sharing practices. This is especially important when files are transferred and managed by a third party. It is critical to implement robust security measures across all manual and automated workflows.

 

Other Recommendations and Considerations

Implement data minimization

Based on the document type and context, minimize the amount of sensitive information collected and stored in the first place.

Invest in data security tools

In addition to redaction tools, utilize encryption, access control, and intrusion detection systems for comprehensive data protection.

Stay informed about data privacy regulations

Keep current with evolving data privacy laws and regulations to ensure compliance.

 

The Future of Redaction: AI-based Redaction and Machine-learning Redaction

Traditional redaction methods are evolving rapidly. The game-changing potential of AI and machine learning promises to bring unprecedented precision, real-time protection, and personalized security to safeguard sensitive information.

Robot hand using laptopAI enables precision redaction

Lightning fast redaction of names, IDs, financials & more across millions of documents. Context-aware, understanding legal and medical jargon and even foreign languages.

Real-time Protection

No data exposure with documents automatically protected as they are created – in meetings, contracts, even medical consultations.

Adaptive redaction capabilities

Always learning, evolving and staying ahead of threats and breaches.

Personalized security

Tailor redaction to document types, departments, even individuals. Seamless workflow integration, maximum efficiency.

Don’t Leave Your Customers’ Data Exposed: Start Your Redaction Journey Today

Redaction is not just a technical solution; it’s a commitment to responsible data handling and building trust with your customers and stakeholders.

Data security lock concept 3D renderRedacting documents and customer communications requires a proactive approach. By identifying sensitive information, choosing the right methods and tools, and integrating redaction into your document workflows, you can protect sensitive data, build trust with your customer, and comply with data privacy regulations. Ensure that redaction is a cornerstone of your data security strategy and protect your valuable information with confidence.

References:

  1. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
  2. Real-World Examples of Redaction Failures
  3. Volume of Data Created on a Daily Basis – IDC
  4. Redacting Information in a Document – Loughborough University
  5. What Is Redaction and Why it’s Super Important to Redact?

 

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