NJ Federal Court Issues Notice about Redaction of Private Information from Court Filings

I received this notice today from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, and thought it worthwhile to post in its entirety:

It has come to our attention that electronic filers may be using inappropriate procedures or software to redact documents. We encourage all electronic filers to review their software guides and/or check with your systems’ staff regarding this issue. The redaction techniques below can also be found on the court’s web site at http://www.njd.uscourts.gov/cm-ecf/RedactTips.pdf.

Effective Personal-Identity and Metadata Redaction Techniques for E-Filing

When you e-file a PDF document, you may be providing more information in that document than you can see via your PDF reader software. Some redaction techniques used when e-filing are ineffective, in that the text intended to be hidden or deleted can be read via a variety of techniques. And, because information about the document, called “metadata”, is also stored inside the document, it is often viewable as well. Examples of metadata and hidden data include the name and type of file, the name of the author, the location of the file on your file server, the full-sized version of a cropped picture, and prior revisions of the text.

E-filers must use extra care to make sure that the PDF documents to be submitted to ECF are fully and completely free of any hidden data which may contain redacted information. The protection of sensitive data can be compromised if improper redaction techniques are used. Here are a couple of examples of sensitive-data visibility issues:

* Highlighting text in black or using a black box over the data in MS Word or Adobe Acrobat will not protect the data from being able to be seen. Changing the text color to white so it disappears against the white screen/paper is similarly ineffective.

* Previous revisions and deleted text may be able to be seen by manipulating an Adobe Acrobat file.

Fortunately, there are effective means of eliminating this metadata from electronic documents. Probably the simplest method is to omit the information from the original document and save the redacted version with a new name, for example, “REDACTED”, then convert to PDF.

While the court does not endorse any specific method, and the responsibility for redacting personal identifiers rests solely with the parties, commercially-available software can be used to redact, not just hide, the sensitive information. Redax (http://www.blogger.com/www.appligent.com) and RapidRedact (http://www.blogger.com/www.rapidredact.com) are two examples of commercial products used by some. Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Professional and above and WordPerfect XIV both contain redaction tools. Search the web for references that may be useful to you.

While this notice clearly applies to cases filed in the federal court of New Jersey, electronic court filing is also available in the federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Allentown), which has a local rule requiring that certain personal information of the parties be removed from public filings. E.D. Pa. Local Rule of Civil Procedure 5.1.3 (“Modification or Redaction of Personal Identifiers: As documents in civil cases may be made available for personal inspection in the office of the clerk of court at the United States Courthouse, or, if filed electronically, may be made available on the court’s Electronic Case Filing system, such personal identifiers as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, financial account numbers and names of minor children should be modified or partially redacted in all documents filed either in traditional paper form or electronically.”).

UPDATE: This notice is also available on the Court’s web site. See Personal-Identity and Metadata Redaction Notice, October 23, 2009.