Federal Court Redaction Rules
Redactions in Court Filings
Federal regulations require that filings made with federal courts in the US be redacted for privacy. Redaction is a method of removing sensitive data from documents that protect individuals’ privacy or safety before the papers are made available for public viewing. While the US has not made a comprehensive privacy regulation that is all-encompassing such as the General Data Protection Regulation available to protect citizens, it does have several rules or laws that apply in specific contexts.
Redacting or sanitizing documents for sensitive information is a way to protect individuals. Many court records and transcripts are available publicly. Though a person is taken to court for a crime or financial matters, they may be found not guilty. When including personal information in public documents regarding the case, a person’s identity or reputation could be ruined. Personally identifiable information (PII) are the types of details in forms that are redacted for safety. PII consists of any data that can personally identify an individual. It includes names, social security numbers, addresses, and other data points directly linked to a person.
Attorneys and other legal personnel are required to redact filings and transcripts for sensitive or personal data. The federal courts have explicit rules that must be followed for the redaction process. There are two very similar court rules regarding redaction – Rule 5.2 and Rule 49.1. Rule 5.2 is included within the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 49.1 is part of the Federal Rules for Criminal Procedure. Both regulations require the following details to be removed from court filings for the protection of individual privacy:
- Social Security Number and taxpayer-identification numbers: Use only the LAST FOUR DIGITS.
- Dates of Birth: Only the year of birth can be left if necessary.
- Names of Minor Children: In the case of minor children, only initials are permitted.
- Home Address: Only if a home address must be included, use only the city and state.
- Financial Account Numbers: Identify the name or type of account and the financial institution where maintained, but use only the account number’s LAST FOUR DIGITS.
- Follow any additional court orders about the redaction of sensitive information based on the case.
- Use extreme caution and redact for security when including any of the following information:
- Driver’s License Numbers
- Medical Records
- Employment History
- Individual Financial Information
- Proprietary or Trade Secret Details
Wrong Ways to Redact Court Documents
Removing data from court documents is not as easy as it seems. The original data needs to remain intact, but the file released for public viewing must have sensitive information removed before release. If the redaction is not handled correctly, some methods could allow individuals to discover the hidden details. A simple copy-paste method can sometimes reveal all the redacted information clearly if the method chosen is not correct. The best way to be sure that redactions are handled securely and competently is to use an advanced redaction software application such as CaseGuard. Some of the ways that are NOT suggested to use as a redaction process as the details can be revealed are:
- Changing the font to white color – This method of redaction does not hide the data. A user only needs to use their mouse to highlight the information, and all will be revealed!
- Blacking out with comment tools – This is when comment tools are used to generate a black box to cover the details that are required to be redacted. Sure, it looks fine, but it is similar to the above example in that a user needs only to highlight the black-box text to discover what is hidden.
- Deleting – Deleting sensitive information sounds very secure, but there is a severe problem with this method. All word processing programs contain background information known as metadata. Metadata is an embedded code that can contain revision history and other personal or sensitive information. A thorough review of the file’s metadata can reveal all changes, deleted data and note when and if the file was re-saved.
- Covering text with a black marker, tape, or paper. This method also has its drawbacks. A scanned and redacted document using this method can still reveal the details by providing enough image detail. This also leads to showing data that can be used repeatedly throughout the document.
Audio Court Recordings
Courts often have full audio recordings of all the procedures and testimony involved in a civil or criminal court case. Most courts will offer these in place of document transcripts for a fee. Anyone can order copies of court proceedings unless there is a specific court order blocking its release. To request court documents or recordings, an individual would need to contact the court transcriptionist.
Audio recordings are also required to follow the stringent redaction rules given by the court. The most appropriate and accurate way for a court officer or transcriptionist to redact audio recordings is by using intelligent automation available through top redaction software. This type of software, like CaseGuard, uses automation, smart algorithms, and artificial intelligence to redact the file far more accurately than manual human redaction. When using an automated redaction software system, the audio file is scanned for targeted information. Those details are deleted or bleeped so that the released copy no longer contains the sensitive audio. Artificial intelligence is extremely accurate and will locate every instance of any specified data within the file and remove it.
Federal Court Exemptions to Redaction
Federal courts require that all filed cases follow the rules 49.1 and 5.2. Redaction of sensitive information is required. Additional details can also be redacted if there is a court order in place, making it necessary. Some data points or types of sensitive data are not necessarily listed as a redaction requirement, but a court order makes this ruling. This ruling can result from national security, local government data, or personal financial data. Under rule 5.2, a specific set of redaction exemptions are put forth but could be redacted if the judge orders it for security reasons. The redaction requirement of rule 5.2 does not apply to the following.
- A financial account number that is used to identify a particular piece of property. This is most likely in the case of forfeiture or a forfeiture proceeding.
- The record of an administrative or agency proceeding.
- The official record of a state court proceeding.
- Any court record that was not subject to the redaction requirements when initially filed.
- Any filings covered by rule 5.2.
- A pro-se filing brought under specific court rules.
- An arrest or search warrant.
Automate the Process
Court officials and civilians are both threatened by privacy issues and abuse of information through court documents. Some criminals commit fraud against individuals, businesses, government agencies, and yes, even the same court systems that would likely hold them to account if caught. Redaction rules are in place to protect everyone involved in the court process.
Today’s courtroom hearings incorporate a great deal of data. This data comes in a variety of formats, including video, audio, and documentation or filings. It is essential for any court, county, state, or federal to abide by policies that maintain privacy for all individuals. While automating the process does speed up the process, it also makes the redaction process far more accurate. To get the best redaction software, courts, attorneys, and transcriptionists require that the redaction software be all-encompassing; that is, it should be able to redact all types of files. The expense could be far more significant if training had to be provided on separate software packages, including each system’s cost. The costs can soar when redaction is done manually due to the number of working hours involved. To do their jobs effectively and cost-efficiently, the redaction software should automate the process and be accurate and handle several file types.
CaseGuard automated redaction software is considered the number one redaction software in the world for a reason. The design of the entire software package is intuitive, making learning to use the system relatively easy. Learning to redact all file types can be done by anyone, even those without previous redaction experience. CaseGuard has an excellent usability level and can be used across the board for all individuals, offices, and courts so that everyone involved in the court case is on the same page regarding the redaction process and the type of software used. Safeguarding, an individual’s private data is paramount to the security of court trials.
Speeding up the process saves time and money. For legal offices or courtrooms, having the right software package saves money on employee time and hours, including the additional employees that would be required to handle the massive amount of data produced by any individual court. The other employees come with salaries and benefits that can raise the cost of the redaction process tremendously. CaseGuard redaction software is automated, using unique smart algorithms, artificial intelligence for accuracy, and machine learning for a system that continually builds upon itself, becoming faster and more accurate over time. When courts demand trust and integrity of those who serve in their offices, they should also choose a redaction software system that they can trust will be impactful and effective in their work at the end of the day. No matter the type of file used in the courtroom, audio, video, or document, CaseGuard can redact all of them. CaseGuard also includes additional features that make the court far more accessible to others by including translation, transcription, and captioning features. Videos can be used in the court process and be available in multiple languages. When a court, its employees, the attorneys that represent clients get serious about redaction – they choose CaseGuard.