United States District Court - Northern District Court of California

Claudia Wilken, Chief Judge

Richard W. Wieking, Clerk of Court

Redaction of Information

There are a number of circumstances in which documents should be redacted to remove confidential information before e-filing.  

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5-2, for example, restricts the filing (either e-filing or manual filing) of certain personal data to:

  • Last 4 digits of a social-security or taxpayer ID number;
  • Year of an individual's birth (not month or day);
  • Minor's initials;
  • Last 4 digits of a financial-account number.

Other types of information appropriate for redaction include:

  • Medical information;
  • Trade secrets;
  • Informant names;
  • Sensitive security information;
  • Other forms of unique identifiers.

We urge e-filers to use the utmost care to make sure that the PDF documents submitted to ECF are correctly redacted using effective redaction practices AND completely free of any hidden metadata which may contain redacted data or other data you do not wish to make public.

The information on this page does not purport to be exhaustive. We offer a summary of both ineffective and effective methods for your convenience. As software may be updated before we are able to update this page, verify that you have the most up-to-date instructions.

What Is Covered On This Page:

Wrong Ways To Redact

A common error in redacting information is to use an out-of-date or otherwise wrong method. Below is a partial list of methods NOT to use:

Changing the font to white

Turning the text white makes the words seem to disappear, but they don't. To see what can happen with this method, highlight (click & drag your mouse over) the sentence below. You will see the words are really there:
Mrs. Lincoln said that John Wilkes Booth shot her husband.

Blacking out with comment tools

Edits made by graphic and "commenting" tools which can black-out, cover over or remove sections of text can still be removed by anyone to reveal the text underneath. To see what can happen with this method, highlight (click & drag your mouse over) the sentence below. You will see the words are really there:

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

Deleting

Word-processing programs (such as Word or WordPerfect) retain embedded and hidden code called "metadata" containing revision history and other information. Metadata can reveal anything that was contained in the file at any time, even text that was previously deleted or changed, and even if the file was re-saved. Metadata are useful for tracking revisions, but if it is not purged from the document, anyone can view deleted information, even after the document has been converted to PDF.

Covering text with black marker, tape or paper

A scanned document redacted this way may still provide enough image detail to enable someone to see what was assumed hidden; this method should especially if that same data repeats a number of times across a document.

Redacting With The Notebook Method

  1. Find & Replace all the text to be redacted in your original file and save it as a "temp-redacted" version.
  2. Copy all the text from the "temp-redacted" version and paste it into Notepad, save this as the "text-redacted" version and close it.
  3. Open the "text-redacted" version in your word-processing program, make any needed formatting changes, PDF this file and e-file it.
  4. Clean up the temp files - DONE!

View an expanded version of these instructions.

Redacting a PDF File (scanned or converted)

Current versions of Adobe Acrobat Professional (not standard) can redact PDF documents using built-in redations tools.  bVisit Adobe's website for instructions and downloads for the current version (www.adobe.com . . .). There are also plug-ins (add-on software) for Acrobat which can do this. Another guide with steps to redaction is available on Rick's Acrobat X Redaction Guide (blogs.adobe.com . . . )

You may also download Adobe documents about redaction here:

Instructions for redacting with Acrobat 6 or 7

Instructions for redacting with Acrobat 8, 9 or X

White Paper on Redaction in Adobe Acrobat X

Redacting a Paper Document

Before scanning the document:

  1. Cut-out (literally) all the text to be redacted and properly dispose of (shred) the clippings. This method will always be 100% effective.
  2. 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.

Redacting a Document through WordPerfect

This is a two step process:

  1. Go through the document and mark all confidential words and/or phrases for redaction. You can mark for redaction by going to Tools→Mark for Redaction.
  2. You will then need to create and save a copy of the newly redacted version in one of three formats: WordPerfect, Word, or PDF. After having done so, WordPerfect turns the redaction marks into opaque black bars.

Remove Hidden Metadata & Elements From Word Document

  1. Open up a Word 2010 (also works for 2007) document.
  2. Click File to bring up Backstage View.
  3. Once there, click Prepare for SharingCheck for IssuesInspect Document.
  4. inspect 2

  5. The Document Inspector dialog will then appear.
  6. Check each option you wish to Inspect that is available on the list.
  7. Once you are done, click Inspect.
  8. Upon completion of inspection, you can remove inspected elements from the document by clicking Remove All for each option selected.
  9. The document is now safe for public distribution.