Metadata Redaction Guide

Redaction of Personal Identifiers

In accordance with Rule 9037(a) of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure the following information about an individual (“personal identifiers”) should be redacted from documents before they are filed with the Court:

• Social Security or taxpayer-identification number (redact all but the last four digits)
• A birth date (redact all but the year)
• Name of an individual identified as a minor (other than debtor) (redact all but initials)
• Financial account number (redact all but the last four digits)

It is the responsibility of the party filing a document to make certain that all personal data has been redacted before filing. E-filers must use extra care to make sure the PDF documents to be submitted in ECF are completely free of hidden data which may contain redacted information.

Note: The best way to ensure that no personal identifiers are transmitted to the Court is to create your word processing document without that data prior to conversion to .pdf format. However, if you do not have that option you should follow the procedures below.

 

A common error in redacting information is using the wrong method to redact the electronic file. Below is a partial list of methods NOT to use:

1. Changing the font to white makes it look like the words disappear, but they don't. Highlight (click & drag your mouse over) the sentence below to see what can happen with this method (the words are really there):

• Mrs. Lincoln said that John Wilkes Booth shot her husband.

2. Word-processing documents (including those created using Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, WordStar, etc.) and PDF documents may contain hidden information, such as revision history. Revision history can reveal earlier drafts of a document even though later drafts deleted earlier text and even if the file was re-saved. If prior revisions and metadata, such as a document’s author, the date of creation, etc. are not purged from the document, others may be able to view this information, even if the document has been converted to PDF.

3. Adobe Acrobat (the full version) has graphic and "commenting" tools which can black out, cover over or remove sections of text. The edits these tools make can still be removed by anyone who opens the document to reveal the text underneath.

4. Ink-marking or using semi-translucent tape or paper to cover areas of a document to be scanned can still sometimes show what was "hidden", especially if that same data repeats across a document.

The Court staff are not experts on metadata, and do not endorse any specific method of sanitizing a document. There are a number of consulting and software resources which specialize in data redaction if you need further information, but we do offer some examples of ways to ensure that your documents are redacted as you intended:

1. Redacting a Word-Processing File:

A. Make sure the source contains no unwanted text or data to begin with. One way is to use a simple-text editor such as Windows Notepad : Start>Programs>Accessories>Notepad to create the final redacted version of the document. Notepad cannot save hidden code, since it uses only simple-text (.txt) format. This format saves only basic text info so in Notepad, "what you see is what you get", and nothing more. Here's how (we will assume for these instructions that you are using Microsoft Word, but the same instructions work for WordPerfect, WordStar, etc.):

Example:

Replace all instances of "John Wilkes Booth" with "[NAME REDACTED]" or "JWB".   Be careful to do this for all instances and variants of the text to be redacted (a find/replace for "John Wilkes Booth" will not replace "John Booth" or "John Wilkes Booth's" or "J. Wilkes Booth" because those phrases are totally different to the computer.)

Save this as a new "temp-redacted" version, then...

B. Copy all the text from Word and paste it into Notepad:

i. Select all the text in Word
(type Ctrl-A, or click Edit=>Select All)

ii. Copy all the text in Word
(type Ctrl-C, or click Edit=>Copy)

iii. Paste all the text into Notepad
Start>Programs>Accessories>Notepad, or
Start>Run, type notepad, click OK.
To paste, type Ctrl-V or click Edit=>Paste into Notepad. This will remove all hidden code from the document, but it will also remove most of the formatting (page numbering, tabs, justification, paragraph numbering/bullets, bold/italics/underlining, fonts, etc.). If you now PDF this Notepad document directly from within Notepad, the PDF file will contain only the info you see within Notepad and nothing more.

iv. Save this file in Notepad as the "text-redacted" version. It will now be a text (.txt) file.

C. If you must reformat the document (usually you will), then re-open the "text-redacted" version in Word because Notepad cannot do formatting. This is fine to do, but you MUST only do so in a BRAND NEW BLANK FILE. Do not place the text from Notepad back into the same Word file that it originated from. Here's how:

i. Save and close the Notepad file.

ii. In Word, select File>Open, then open the "text-redacted" text (.txt) version.

iii. You may then reformat the text and save your work as the "final-redacted" version.
Be sure you do not change any text, just the formatting.

D. This Word file can be converted to PDF and it will contain only the text and formatting you see on your screen. Convert/Save this file as the "PDF-redacted" version and efile it.

E. The "text-redacted" and "temp-redacted" versions should now be deleted.

F. Find & Replace all the text to be redacted in your original file and save it as a "temp-redacted" version.

G. Copy all the text from the "temp-redacted" version and paste it into Notepad, save this as the "text-redacted" version and close it.

H. Open the "text-redacted" version in your word-processing program, make any formatting changes, PDF this file and efile it.

I. Clean up the temp files.

2. Redacting a Scanned File (tiff, jpeg, gif, etc.): This is a little trickier since you are modifying an "image" or photo of a file and the data which contains that image may not be fully removed or destroyed using common software tools. Check the support documentation of the software you use to manipulate graphics (such as Photoshop, Paint, etc.) to determine if their tools are sufficient to redact a document. You may also want to consider printing the document and using method 4 below.

3. Redacting a PDF File (scanned or converted): This is the most delicate and difficult part to do correctly. Adobe Acrobat (any version) by itself can not redact a document using any of the built-in tools. There are plug-ins (add-on software) for Adobe which can do this, such as Redax. You may also want to consider printing the document and using method 4 below.

4. Redacting a Paper Document: Before scanning the document:

A. Cut out (literally) all the text to be redacted and properly dispose of the clippings. This method will always be 100% effective.

B. Use opaque (100% impenetrable by light; neither transparent nor translucent) tape or paper to cover over the sections to be redacted. Do not use plain paper as the scanner may pick up images through the paper. Even some black paper may allow some light reflection - so be careful.