Redaction safeguards sensitive information from prying eyes by removing it from a document. As such, redaction is commonly performed on medical forms, government documents, tax audits, and employment applications and HR files. Sensitive information can be stored in the original file version and is accessible only to those who are authorized to view it.

In the past, redaction consisted of a copy of the original form, and a bottle of white-out or a really nice sharpie marker. As more and more information is being processed in paperless office settings, redaction methods have had to change dramatically. There is a lot to be said for virtual files like PDFs or emails, but from the beginning of the tech communication age, security has been the main risk. That is where Document Management Software (DMS) programs come into play.

Paperless Office Redaction

Now that new documents are created on computers, filled out on computers and shared via computers, it makes sense that the only way to redact sensitive information on PDFs will come from computer programming options. There are a few different methods used, and some of them are not as secure as they should be. Experts at Wired note that “problems can arise when editors use an improper method such as trying to obscure information rather than deleting it, or if they are unaware of sensitive metadata in a document. They can find out, too late, that the information can later be extracted from the document.”

Basically, when one program is used to hide or visually morph the information, the same program can be used to reverse the process by those who are tech savvy. This leaves a lot of sensitive information floating around to any prying eyes.

In order to handle paperless redaction, it is important to remember that the final copy of the document after the redaction process is done will not be a hard copy. A virtual format of the document can still be edited and altered, so a simple highlighting of the text in black, or the placement of a graphic over the sensitive information will do little to protect the source of the information on a PDF. Complete removal of the information must be accomplished for redaction compliance standards to be met.

The tools for handling virtual redaction will vary from program to program, so those who are handling the redaction work in the HR department or in other areas will need to be well-versed in these tools. Ashish Prasad, Kim Leffert, and Shauna Fulbright-Paxton from the American Bar Association Business Law Section state, “Given the increasing amount of electronic information that must be reviewed for litigation and government investigations, it is critical that those managing a document review, and those engaging in document review, be equipped with proper training and guidelines in order to ensure that the document review is proceeding effectively and efficiently.” The most common programs are Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, and Photoshop.

Document Management Software Application

In the end, the work of paperless redaction will consist of the following important steps:

  1. Identifying an original document with sensitive information
  2. Storing the original document in a secure file
  3. Making a copy of the document
  4. Making sure the sensitive information is REMOVED (not covered up)
  5. Saving the altered document as the new standard of the document

This requires a secure server with files that are encrypted and password protected. The two files with the original information and the redacted document should be completely separate, and only those legally privy to the confidential information should have knowledge of or access to the higher-security files.

Document Management Software programs are set up to provide this exact format. The program can create the right sectors of storage that are easily read and checked. Each sector can be set up for your needed purposes, and each can be set to the desired security settings.

Another useful feature in most DMS programs is automatic retention. Some confidential documents stored by offices can and should be removed after a certain amount of time. There are plenty of examples of this, but the most universally applicable is tax information. Your tax filing documents should be stored for 8 years to allow for random auditing, but after that time frame, all that information should be destroyed so as to protect the confidential data in these files.

A DMS program can safely store and retain these files, and can be set up to automatically and permanently delete files at a scheduled date. This feature keeps things better organized, and removes the necessity of manual oversight in the document disposal process.

A number of company will have their own system and set of protocols to follow when it comes to information redaction, retention, and disposal. DMS offer highly flexible programs that can mold to different needs and compliance standards across industries.