One of the most important skills of any eDiscovery professional is the ability to redact documents efficiently. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a walk in the park.
If you think otherwise, ask Chris Picha, director of human resources at Minnesota’s Owatonna Public Schools. In a recent article by The Washington Post about the historic volumes of FOIA requests schools are facing, Picha stated: “I am very tired. I almost want to vomit when I hear the word ‘redaction.”
eDiscovery pros like Picha often deal with droves of information that can take up gigabytes and even terabytes of storage space. Unfortunately, this doesn’t excuse a failure to redact sensitive information.
In addition to preserving privilege and protecting private data, you need to properly redact documents to comply with legal and ethical obligations. Failure on this front can lead to serious sanctions and other penalties.
So, how exactly are you supposed to accomplish this Herculean feat without getting sick? Commonly used tools like Adobe offer some respite, but it’s often unreliable for proper redaction. Fortunately, there are other excellent resources available to assist legal teams with this endeavor.
Redaction 101: A Brief Overview
Before delving into the best practices for document redaction, let’s get a quick overview into what this process entails and why it is so important. Redaction is nothing more than the selective and permanent process of removing or obscuring information contained within an original document or electronic data. In doing so, the remaining content stays intact and maintains its context for legal and business purposes.
However, you are not meant to use redactions to hide evidence or something similarly nefarious. And even if you were tempted to do it, it wouldn’t be too bright of us to write a blog about the best practices in that process. Rather, its purpose is to protect confidential, sensitive, and privileged information from unauthorized disclosure or access while maintaining evidentiary value.
When legal teams and eDiscovery professionals fail to redact documents properly, they could face different consequences:
- Court sanctions: When information isn't properly redacted in legal proceedings, the courts could issue sanctions against the offending parties. These often include adverse inference instructions, monetary fines, and even outright case dismissal.
- Ethical violations: Even in the absence of courtroom sanctions, certain professionals have ethical obligations to protect sensitive information. If they fail in this endeavor, they could face disciplinary action due to a perceived ethical violation. This could include loss of professional licensure or even disbarment.
- Data breach liability: If improper document redaction results in inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information, the responsible party could face liability damages related to identity theft or other monetary losses.
- Reputational harm: Even in the absence of all other potential consequences, reputational harm can do enough damage to destroy a company, law firm, or other organization.
While there are other possible negative outcomes related to failures in document redaction, these are the most severe. So, the question now becomes how eDiscovery experts can treat this legal and ethical requirement with the seriousness it deserves. Obviously, this requires knowing what type of information should be redacted.
The answer to this question can vary in different contexts, but it often includes personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, phone numbers, and social security numbers. Protected and privileged information should also be redacted — along with confidential business information and data that could cause organizational or individual harm if exposed.
But how do you manually find and hide each piece of sensitive information in your data set? The answer is, you don’t have to. Not manually, at least.
Mastering Document Redaction Doesn’t Require a Master’s Degree
If someone asked you to redact a document and handed you a 15-page contract, you likely wouldn’t get too stressed over the task. After all, conducting a thorough review of this sort wouldn’t even interfere with Taco Tuesday. But what happens when a thumb drive featuring every document generated by a company over the past five years is dropped in your lap?
The massive size of the task does not wipe out the need for a thorough review. Even one oversight that reveals confidential or privileged information could be disastrous.
Redaction software like Logikcull can make this process easier. Even better, such tools are often intuitive and reliable enough that they can avoid the most common mistakes. With these resources available, you don’t have to go back to college to master the task.
However, it’s important to not get sloppy when you redact documents. For instance, overworked professionals will sometimes forget to conceal hidden information that could easily be revealed by someone with rudimentary digital knowledge. One example is that metadata often contains a treasure trove of confidential information. Failing to conceal it can expose data without you even realizing it. Additionally, consistency throughout a legal document is imperative.
Logikcull maximizes consistency for your redaction needs. For instance, our Global Redactions feature automatically hides information across your entire project, and our PII detection tool identifies documents containing personal information and alerts you of its type.
See these two features used in tandem below:
Audio redaction can also be used within your project, so even information that’s not written can be identified and redacted if necessary. This allows you to find all potential information that needs to be hidden, so you don’t have to worry about small pieces of data slipping through that could prove disastrous to your efforts.
The Potential Pitfalls of Poor Redaction
Outright failures in redaction — or even common sloppy mistakes — can lead to serious consequences. So, how do you avoid such a devastating outcome?
We could say “always be thorough” or “double check and then triple check,” but those are merely buzz phrases. To really excel in this task, it’s necessary to avoid the main pitfalls of poor document redaction.
Pay attention to the following, and you’ll be well ahead of the curve:
- Failing to redact all necessary information: It’s sometimes intimidating to realize just how much information falls into the categories of privileged and confidential. Even if you conceal 99% of all information that demands redaction, even the tiniest inappropriate exposure of data can lead to the biggest negative consequences.
- Utilizing improper redaction techniques: Using the right redaction tools is a necessity for eDiscovery professionals. Manually redacting is almost always inappropriate, and common tools like Adobe can be slow and unreliable. This could actually make your job more difficult — or even cause clear redaction errors.
- Failing to double-check for errors in a redacted document: Redaction software can go a long way in securing privileged and confidential information. However, there may be limitations. For instance, certain data might be confidential in one context but not another. Even if this isn’t the case, some courts and regulatory bodies require double checking redactions for accuracy.
- Failing to consider the potential implications of redaction: If you don't fully recognize or appreciate the implications of redaction, it becomes far simpler to inadvertently disclose sensitive information or accidentally leave unintended information visible.
Whether it’s your job to redact a single document or a data trove of documents, your responsibilities remain unchanged. Proper redaction is a bedrock of the discovery process. Not only can failing in this process give opposing attorneys and other parties an unfair advantage, but you could also find yourself facing sanctions and punitive actions that can ruin companies, law firms, and careers. Don’t take this responsibility lightly.
When it comes to redaction in eDiscovery, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Multiple parties have the right to access certain information, but this access is not unlimited. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy in many instances, and this can even go beyond legal and ethical implications. That’s why you should always strive to minimize the potential for human error.
With tools like Adobe adding to potential headaches, though, what’s an eDiscovery professional to do? Logikcull might be the answer to your problems. Our redaction capabilities are unmatched in the industry. You can redact specific information in bulk throughout an entire document using Bulk Redactions, or you can redact multiple types of information across entire projects and document selections with Global Redactions.
When you combine these capabilities with our software's ability to automatically detect privileged documents and personally identifiable information, your team’s capacity for properly redacting documents becomes exactly what’s expected in the professional world.
Why waste time and risk your own skin with subpar tools? Book a quick demo with us today to see just how much we can improve your eDiscovery tasks.