OPEN GOVERNMENT — Those assigned to "redact" (remove) sensitive information from either private legal documents or public records prior to release are finding the job more challenging because of imperfect manual techniques and the greater conseqences for error in the e-records age, reports Jason Krause for

A few years ago, a federal agency was having problems with an
individual who requested a large number of public records. Despite the
fact that the agency took pains to edit, or redact classified
information, this frequent requester had an alarming ability to read
words that had been censored and publish them online. "They called us
and said, 'this guy must have some high-tech scanners or something,
because he can read words we have clearly redacted,'" says Richard
Huff, who served as one of two co-directors of the Federal Office of
Information and Privacy from 1982 until his recent retirement. "We
tried everything we could to figure out what sort of high-tech wizardry
he was using."

Huff has seen every imaginable issue with public records, but the
case had his department baffled until public information officials went
to investigate the situation in person. It turns out that the agency
(Huff won't say which, for the sake of former colleagues) was using
old-fashioned grease pens to block out confidential and classified
information, which, even when photocopied, could still be read with the
naked eye. "Sure enough, all you had to do was hold them up to the
light and you could read right though," says Huff.

Redacting information is a necessary but frustrating task for many
legal professionals. Huff says documents with failed redaction attempts
came past his desk at least once a month. Advances in technology can
help the redaction process, but the move from paper to electronic
records has made the issue more difficult. "We have all kinds of
personal information in our court records, Social Security numbers,
bank records and so on," says David Ellspermann, clerk of the Circuit
Court for Marion County, Fla. "We do everything we can to protect it
because you can't bring that kind of information back once it's let