Many businesses and individuals deal with a variety of sensitive information and content. Personally-identifiable information (PII) must, by law, be protected to ensure each individual's privacy and safety. To deal with this, many businesses, governmental institutions, and individuals like lawyers, must redact, or remove, information that is sensitive or that could violate a person's privacy rights. Redaction is the process of rendering any personal or private information invisible within a document, photograph, video, etc.
Most commonly, redaction is used in written documents. Redaction of information can go far beyond just personally-identifiable information. Information that is deemed classified or, for whatever reason, improper to disclose, it will be redacted from the document to protect the individuals cited in the said document. In the past, this would have been done using a permanent marker or white-out. Sometimes the protected information would be cut out of the document.
In recent years, we have heard of several devastating security breaches that have exposed millions of people's private information. The problem isn't just the unintentional publication of personal, sensitive, and protected information. Sometimes, especially in the digital realm, redaction is done improperly, leaving the information that seems to be protected vulnerable.
What kind of information needs to be redacted?
When it comes to the information that should be redacted from a given document, some of it is common sense. An individual’s social security number, driver’s license number, financial or health information, and other such information is protected by privacy law and must be protected through redaction. Any information that could be used to commit fraud must also be protected. This means that a person’s address, date of birth, and other personal information must also be redacted to ensure safety and privacy.
It goes beyond just this basic information though. Depending on the industry you are working in and the type of documents you deal with, there are other bits of information that must also be kept private. This includes past judiciary records or other personal legal information. It also extends to what is called “trade secrets”, which is protected information that is vital to the operation of a business and protection from others being able to steal their ideas or plans for personal gain. This is not an exhaustive list of information that may be subject to protection through redaction, but it gives a good overview of the types of information that may be protected through this process.
What is document redaction software?
In modern times, we no longer have to use the old permanent marker trick. Today, there is special software that is designed to effectively redact personal information from a variety of types of documents. Document redaction software allows you to protect a variety of sensitive information on all documents, including PDF files, Word documents, Excel files, and more. Many document redaction software suites also make the process incredibly simple by providing search features that make it as simple as a few search queries to find the information you need to protect and redact.
The thing about digital documents is that there is a lot more to them than the text that we see when we view one. Behind those documents is often code and metadata that too can contain information that is sensitive and needs to be protected. Almost all of the document redaction software includes the ability to remove all protected or sensitive information even from this back-end of a digital document.
This is why it is a big mistake to think that you can protect information without the use of purpose-driven document redaction software. For example, one recent error that resulted in tens of thousands of people’s personal health information to be exposed as a result of improper redaction techniques. Rather than using a proper document redaction software, an individual in New South Wales, Australia, simply put a black box over sensitive information in a PDF document. While most general users could not access what was behind those black boxes, search engines most certainly could and did. Search engines were able to index all of the information on the page, including the private and sensitive data behind the ineffective black boxes.
Sadly, stories like this are far too common and have led to the exposure of untold amounts of personal information to potential threats.
Does my business need document redaction software?
There are some areas of industry where redaction is going to be a big part of one's business processes, such as in the legal or governmental realm. However, almost all businesses are legally required to protect people's personal information under penalty of law. Laws like HIPAA are in place to protect a patient's protected health information. If you keep any financial information or other information that could be used to compromise someone's identity, chances are you will need to know and understand the process of redaction.
It goes beyond just information you keep on clients or customers. Company and employee data must also be protected against potential breaches of security. There are quite a few privacy laws that make protecting this information not only important but a legal obligation as well. Tens of millions of pieces of information are collected on the internet each year. Data requests, Freedom of Information Act requests, and other efforts of collecting data can be time-sensitive and is often where redaction error comes into play.
Not only must all people who deal with personal or sensitive information be fluent in privacy law and information compliance requirements, but they must also be able to provide relevant agencies with the information they need in a timely fashion, while also protecting the sensitive information of the documents they are sharing. Unfortunately, it is in these instances where an error is most likely to occur and redacting manually opens the potential for greater error. Additionally, manually redacting documents is often not enough to remove all personal information from a digital document for the reasons we discussed above.
How does document redaction software work?
There is a wide range of document redaction software that provides many unique features that make the process more intuitive and thus reduce the chances of error. Most of these suites scan documents using what is called optical character recognition (OCR). OCR is a process by which search engines that use certain rule-based techniques will scan a document to denote sensitive information that is contained within a digital document on both the front- and back-end. Most of document redaction software is also suitable for scanned microfiche and paper documents, though not all. If you are working with a large number of physical documents, you may need more specialized document redaction software.
Each document is scanned for personally-identifiable information. The information is removed from the document and becomes “sanitized.” Once the document is redacted, it is reintegrated into the file system in its redacted form. You can use a search function to locate and remove specific pieces of information that require redaction, making it incredibly easy to manage a wide range of personal data.
Some document redaction software has more features than others and may include the ability to redact information as widely varied as trade secrets and other intellectual property that may be the subject of theft. Document redaction software should be easy to use, affordable, and makes the task of managing a huge amount of personal, sensitive information a routine part of daily operations. This gives all businesses the peace of mind that they comply with both governmental reporting requirements and requests for information, while also ensuring that their client's sensitive and personal information is properly protected. Document redaction software not only increases efficiency in the compliance process, but it also reduces the likelihood of human error.
In today’s complicated digital world, it is more important than ever before that businesses across all industries can ensure the safety and protection of people's sensitive and personal information. This extends far beyond simply using a sharpie to mark out someone’s home address or social security number. So many of our records are now digital, from our financial and legal information to our health records. The importance of digital security is more important than ever before with this wealth of extremely sensitive information available online. Document redaction software makes it simple and easy to ensure that you comply with all privacy laws and ensure the protection of all sensitive or private data contained within any documents you share with other agencies or put on the web.
Document redaction software should not only remove all sensitive and personal information from the document itself, but it also removes this information from any back-end metadata or code, ensuring that this information cannot be picked up by search engine bots and aggregated.
Many document redaction software has a range of enhanced features that make it simple and easy to find and remove all sensitive information from the front- and back-end of a document. You can easily search for specific information and work easily within a team to ensure proper privacy compliance as well as being able to respond to data requests in a timely fashion.