A Short History of Redaction, Editing, and Language

A Short History of Redaction, Editing, and Language

What is Redaction?

Redaction is a basic form of editing and can be applied in a variety of contexts. On the one hand, redaction is combining texts and slightly altering them to create a single document ready to be released to the reader. The other meaning of redaction is similar but contextually different. It is a term used to describe the removal of specific data or content held back for security or privacy reasons. An example would be a person’s identifiable information in a document, like their address, social security number, or birth date. When removing data for privacy reasons, it is generally replaced with black boxes, which tell the reader that certain information from that segment of text has been removed.

Today, businesses across the globe use a variety of redaction software applications. This type of software helps improve data security and maintain individual privacy. In days past, it has been used mainly as an editing feature. Going further back in history, we find that written language’s redaction has been common for thousands of years. Redactional processes are documented in numerous disciplines. You can find instances of redaction in ancient literary works and biblical studies. Much has been written on the role of redaction in creating meaning for texts in various formats.

Language History

For centuries the word ‘redaction has been defined as ‘to edit or make something ready for publication.’ The history of the word itself dates back to the 18th-century French term: rédaction. The French form of rédaction historically came from the Latin form of the word redaction. The trail goes back even further in history from the word redigere, which, by definition, means ‘bring back.’

In general, the term redaction has been used to describe taking several related documents or accounts and then streamlining them into one single, intelligible form. An example of this would be if you had several different versions of the same story or event. You would then take these multiple versions and make editorial decisions; you would decide which versions to preserve from the different pieces. In the end, you would have combined all the stories to make one complete retelling. This is an example of redaction.

During the last century, the term ‘redaction’ and its meaning has changed to include being used as a security feature. This is when segments or words are replaced with a black box to preserve the data, while simultaneously allowing for the remaining information to be publicly released. Though this type of redaction has been used in government, businesses, and individuals for the last one hundred years, the definition was not validated until 2016, when it was updated in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Earliest Forms of Redaction

One of the earliest forms of redaction that has become known globally is that of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. This version was created following the guidance of King James IV by religious scholars in 1611. The original English translation of this essential Christian manual was from the 14th century. This version was called the Wycliffe Bible. Followers of John Wycliffe, an English philosopher, theologian, and seminary professor at the University of Oxford, had worked diligently to translate the entire works of the Bible into English. These translations were banned in 1409 due to their connection with the Lollard movement, an example of the Protestant and Christian conflict.

William Tyndale worked on translating the New Testament into English in 1525. Tyndale was considered a contemporary of Martin Luther. The Tyndale translation was the first English version of the Holy Bible that was produced utilizing print. Tyndale’s version of the Bible was again edited and adapted (redacted) by Myles Cloverdale in 1539. This was the first version of the Bible that was “authorized” by King Henry VII and England. In the later 1500s, John Calvin offered the translation called the Geneva Bible. In 1604 King James ascended the throne and met with the Hampton Court Conference.

He chose 47 scholars to produce a ‘final’ version of the Bible. These scholars were allowed to consult the Tyndale, Geneva, and Coverdale Bibles, along with a defined list of other translations. Doing the work of bringing education and religious understanding to the poor, these scholars set out to ‘redact’ the multiple translations into one final document.

Edit or Conceal

The word redaction through history was once meant to organize or edit. The history of the word traced back through Rome and stretching forward into the days of Thomas Jefferson, before the additional meaning to conceal sensitive text was widespread. In a sense, redaction can also mean a form of censorship.

There were specific historical trends that coincided with the increased use of redaction in American legal proceedings:

  • The surge in legal prosecutions of organized crime caused a jump in legal redactions. These prosecutions relied heavily on the testimony of witnesses whose identities needed to be protected against mob retaliation.
  • The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA), which was to help create transparency in government, created an immense need for redaction. The propagation of publicly released documents which were mandated by the legislation.

In both of these cases, redaction of parts of documents allowed compliance with FOIA. It continued to provide some level of protection for testimonies, identification of specific individuals, and any facts that needed to be omitted for reasons such as national security interests.

Redaction Uses Today

Today redaction is used in government agencies, small businesses, large enterprises, non-profit organizations, and even for individuals. In many cases, redaction rules, policies, and procedures are strictly enforced in these companies to comply with privacy legislation or protect consumers’ personally identifiable information. Redaction is used to protect individuals but also to protect organizations. Removing a person’s social security number, date of birth, or driver’s license number helps protect the individual’s identity.

Removing faces or license plates from the video also protects individuals by removing the data or part of the video that could be used to identify them specifically. Organizations use redaction when releasing certain documents to the public to protect themselves, their customers, medical information, or trade secrets. Some of the different types of organizations that use redaction regularly are:

  • Law Enforcement – Police use redaction to protect their data. This includes documents, video, and audio redaction. Officers redact personally identifiable information from body cam videos, for example.
  • Healthcare – Health providers are under a strict mandate to not release an individual’s medical data. Legislation, such as HIPAA, requires compliance in data protection, or these organizations can face substantial fines and penalties.
  • Education – The Federal Department of Education has initiated its own rules to protect student privacy. FERPA or Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act give specific instruction to educate providers on how and when any personal data may be released.
  • Government – Local, state, and federal government agencies use redaction to protect personally identifiable information. They also use redaction to maintain security. These agencies are under strict federal mandates to release information through FOIA, some with short turnaround requirements. Still, these agencies must also carefully protect specific other data or national security secrets.
  • Financial – FINRA or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority provides rules regarding the redaction of data. Financial information regarding individuals, companies, or other organizations requires some protection to prevent fraud or abuse.
  • Transportation – Transportation authorities, like the TSA, use a great deal of documentation and video for security purposes. These images, videos, or documents must all be redacted to protect the identity and prevent fraud.
  • Call Centers – Call centers often handle any personal data and financial data, such as credit card numbers. The major issuers of credit cards have rules regarding the handling and protection of such data forms to prevent fraud and abuse.
  • Legal Agencies – Just as in the 60s, when court documents were released with redaction to protect individuals from retaliation, court documents regularly contain a great deal of information that must be protected from potential abuse, such as drivers’ license numbers, birthdates, addresses, or financial information.
  • Casinos – Casinos everywhere use a great deal of security on their premises. Many are also fully capable of facial-recognition technology. This is to protect the casino from individuals who may steal or cheat. It is also to protect their customers and employees by deterring any possible criminal attempts at theft on their properties.
  • Media and Entertainment – The entertainment industry has a variety of reasons to redact. Security videos, documents, and other images to protect the personal information of their employees or customers. These professionals also find themselves redacting thousands of hours of video footage to prepare for release.
  • Crisis Centers and Hotlines – Crisis Centers and hotlines, such as counseling offices, keep records of personally identifiable information on their callers and patients. Some of these instances are regulated by the HIPAA act to protect medical information from public release. Redaction also occurs to protect their patients by removing identity, medical conditions, or other private details.
  • IT and Operations – In a world where cybersecurity is the top concern for all businesses, large and small, IT departments everywhere use redaction to protect their data from hackers or breaches. IT departments work to protect the company’s reputation as well as to keep personal data safe.
  • Retail Companies – Many retail companies of all sizes use video as a means of theft deterrence. In some cases, federal or state legislation requires compliance with strict privacy laws to protect its citizens from any data abuse. These companies have thousands of surveillance video hours that require redaction to protect their customers’ information or faces.

Throughout history, redaction has come a long way in both meaning and its uses. Today, many organizations use automated redaction tools such as CaseGuard to handle data far more accurately and quickly. The data is primarily removed to protect an individual’s identity, but other details require a certain kind of discretion. CaseGuard uses smart automation and artificial intelligence to allow companies to handle their redaction processes far more accurately, protecting their consumers, and increasing transparency and trust with their customer base. While redaction has its place over time and history, CaseGuard is taking redaction into the future.