The Importance of Email Redaction in the 21st Century

The Importance of Email Redaction in the 21st Century

While the process of redacting documents has historically been arduous, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, there are now automatic redaction software programs that can do the same work that once took days in a matter of minutes. However, despite these enormous technological advancements, redaction errors remain a common occurrence, particularly as it relates to PDF redactions in the context of legal proceedings. The case of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is perhaps the most recent example of such a failure on a major scale, as Manafort’s legal team failed to properly redact legal proceedings in relation to his alleged involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, leading to disastrous consequences.

However, while instances of document redaction failure have been well documented, instances of similar mistakes with regard to email communication can be equally as costly. While many PDF redaction failures often result from a failure to apply redactions properly, such as simply placing a black box over personal information within a particular document as opposed to completely removing or scrubbing the information and creating a completely new document, issues that can arise during email redaction are often based in the perception of email communication. As emails have historically been viewed as a more informal form of communication when compared to physical documents, many professionals around the U.S. have found themselves in hot water after failing to redact emails in an effective manner.

Hillary Clinton Email Scandal

Perhaps the most widely publicized example of the potential risks of failing to redact email communications was the case of former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton in 2015. In 2015, it was revealed that Clinton had used a private email server to send various emails within the capacity of her role as U.S. Secretary of State. Following two separate FBI investigations, it was noted that Clinton had sent hundreds of thousands of email messages to a variety of contacts from 2009 to 2013. These emails contained various forms of personal information, as well as information that was deemed to be classified at the time in which Clinton sent said emails. While the FBI inevitably determined that Clinton’s actions were not in violation of the law, her actions did create a negative perception around here due to her response to the inquiries and accusations.

When providing the FBI and the general public an explanation as to why Clinton had made the decision to use a private email server to send emails containing personal and confidential information without proper authorization or redaction work, she stated that the primary purpose was convenience. In giving such a response, Clinton failed to recognize the importance of email communication in the 21st century, as many emails are now viewed to be as formal and legitimate as physical documents have been in the past, particularly as it relates to government communications. Moreover, when Clinton tried to retroactively redact certain emails, the sheer number of messages, in combination with public pressure, led to even more criticism and scrutiny from the American populace.

Rudy Giuliani Redaction Failure

To provide another more recent example of the potential consequences that can arise from failing to redact email messages, former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani was investigated by New York Federal prosecutors in May of 2021 for allegedly violating “foreign lobbying laws by operating on behalf of Ukrainian officials when he sought the ouster of the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, while urging Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.” This information was revealed after said prosecutors seized a number of materials pertaining to Giuliani in 2019, which included email and text messages, as well as iCloud accounts and encrypted communications.

While the case of Giuliani is still ongoing, his failure to properly redact his communications to other individuals in lieu of his position within the U.S. government showcases yet another example of the level of embarrassment and distress that can result from failing to properly redact materials. As was the case with Clinton, Giuliani more than likely did not view his email, text, or iCloud communications as being formal, and as such, did not think to redact said information prior to sending it, irrespective of the legality of such communications. Subsequently, personal and classified information was revealed to the American public, and Giuliani will continue to have to fight for his innocence.

How can professionals go about redacting email messages?

While many consumers may not be aware, many automatic redaction software programs now offer functionality that will allow them to automatically redact personal information from email messages. These software programs will completely remove personal information and details from email content, so that it can never be accessed by another individual who does not have the original file. Whether it be a teacher sending information concerning minors to another employee within their school district, or a member of the U.S. government sending email communications as was the case with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, there are a number of cases where business professionals should consider redacting the information contained in their emails prior to sending them.

Despite the number of high-profile cases involving redaction failure in recent years, many professionals around the U.S. are continuing to fail to realize the importance that redaction can play in not only legal proceedings but also public perception. To this point, while physical documentation has historically been the medium used to conduct government and business functions, electronic communications have become more prevalent due to the digital nature of our current world. Within the rise of the COVID-19 virus in 2020, the world’s reliance on digital communication only advanced further, as lockdowns forced agencies and organizations to focus their efforts solely on electronic communications in many instances. As such, ensuring that said communications are properly redacted will be incredibly important moving forward.

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