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Failure to redact documents properly is not just a first-year associate’s standard-issue nightmare. It’s a potential crime and a malpractice mess, and it’s coming soon to a courtroom near you. Consider this: A few months ago, a California family reportedly filed a wrongful-death suit alleging that local officials failed to protect their son — a witness in a criminal case who was killed — properly. The family also blames the defendant’s lawyer for — get this — not properly redacting documents given to the defendant relating to the son’s contact information. And failure to redact properly in this instance could be a misdemeanor in California. Aside from shielding documents in California criminal cases because it is the law, redaction is a critical tool for government agencies responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests; companies protecting proprietary information when filing for patents; and, of course, lawyers engaged in discovery or submitting exhibits in court. It used to be that to redact a document, you took a black magic marker or sticky white tape and, voil�, problem solved. Today, however, redaction is a critical feature of document management, especially given heightened national security and personal privacy concerns post-Sept. 11. In the digital age, many federal (and in some cases state and local) filings can be made electronically. According to officials at Adobe Systems, the maker of Acrobat and creator of the portable document format (PDF), approximately 200 to 300 government agencies, including courts, have adopted PDF as a standard electronic format. This means that in many cases, documents must be submitted in PDF, rather than in Microsoft Word or TIFF (the standard form used for scanned images). If they are submitted in PDF, they obviously have to be redacted in PDF. HIDDEN DANGERS IN WORD DOCS Unlike PDF and TIFF, Word retains hidden information within its documents to allow users to “undo” mistakes, resulting in security problems when electronically filing a Word document. Also, different versions of Word may not be fully compatible with each other. Then there is the continuing problem of proprietary formats — Adobe has made the specifications for PDF freely available while Microsoft has not, complicating integration across platforms. The leading redaction software for PDF documents, which retails for $349, is Redax 3.0, manufactured by Lansdowne, Pa.-based Appligent Inc. Lauded for its ease of use (as training takes less than an hour), Redax searches PDF documents and tags protected words, phrases or pictures. It then creates a new document in which the redacted text is completely deleted, preventing a reviewer from retrieving any eliminated data. At the same time, the program automatically creates a text file with all of the deletions preserved for future reference. Updates are made periodically to the software based on customer input. Robert Dawson, an attorney at Dawson Law Chambers in Winnipeg, Canada, notes that Redax “allows a simple box to be drawn over the irrelevant information and a code to be inserted, referring to the specific court rule that justifies the redaction.” It also gives him a way to protect his clients’ confidential information as “documents that are filed as part of submissions to the court are publicly available.” According to Virginia Gavin, the company’s president, the majority of Redax users are government agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. Smaller law firms and litigation support companies in these countries make up another 10 percent. Gavin notes that many law firms are currently redacting Word or WordPerfect documents by bracketing protected information and changing the text color to white, thereby hiding it from view. For paper submissions, this method is adequate; however, if such documents are filed electronically, the text can be recovered easily. Gavin also notes that “the main reason government agencies, especially the courts, require PDF is that they need page integrity.” Only PDF documents can be printed regardless of the printer and viewed regardless of the operating system, without altering the page numbers (a key issue when cross-referencing is involved). According to Gavin, “larger law firms are now considering Redax 3.0 because of these [court-mandated] requirements.” While Lori DeFurio, developer evangelist for Adobe’s ePaper technologies, comments, “Redax is the tool of choice when anyone even says the word redaction,” it is not the only game in town. There are several complete document management software packages available that feature redaction for various formats as one aspect of a large suite of proprietary offerings. The beauty of Redax, though, according to Gavin is that “users are not constrained to any particular document management system or style — the redacted documents can be incorporated into their existing processes.” The large software programs allow reams of paper to be scanned or loaded into a central database so that, for example, if an attorney is preparing for a case, he can have ready access to a deposition transcript, prior trial testimony and memoranda from cross-border client meetings on his desktop. He can also store, organize, search and manipulate a myriad of other documents. These systems are particularly helpful in creating disaster recovery plans. Products like Reston, Va.-based Vrendenburg’s VeFOIA application primarily use the scanned document standard TIFF format to manage FOIA requests by the FBI, National Archives and Records Administration and Securities and Exchange Commission, among others. It can also read and allow viewing of over 300 formats/file types. San Francisco-based Summation Legal Technologies’ Summation Blaze allows users to organize documents for instant retrieval, connect images to each document and transmit copies of the database seamlessly online. And Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based Innovative Design & Engineering Associates Inc.’s Trial Pro II organizes trial evidence and provides annotation tools for pretrial and trial exhibit markup and display. All three of these document management products offer, among a host of other features, the ability to redact documents. They are, however, more expensive than Redax and are designed for specific uses, e.g., trial preparation. As a result, they contain many unnecessary tools for a law office or government agency that simply wants to delete a few lines of text and be done. While there are larger alternatives, Appligent has apparently cornered the market on easy-to-use, redaction-only software. So the next time you are sharing documents, don’t forget to redact — particularly if you are a criminal defense attorney in California. Ari Kaplan, an attorney and a free-lance writer in New York City, can be reached at www.arikaplan.net.

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