Public Document Redaction Process Updated by New Software

"When new content is put in that file folder, it triggers a redaction process."

by / June 9, 2008

New software aims to automatically redact sensitive information, like Social Security numbers, addresses and names from electronic public documents as governments produce those documents. Normally governments take the extra step of running electronic batches of those documents through redaction software before dispersing them. The product is called Redact-It Enterprise Server from Informative Graphics, a content management software provider.

"It can monitor file folders automatically. When new content is put in that file folder, it triggers a redaction process," said Gary Heath, CEO of Informative Graphics.

State and local governments have been under pressure to redact Social Security numbers from online public documents for the past few years. Many agencies began publishing tax liens, uniform commercial code (UCC) -- laws designed to standardize commercial transactions among all 50 states -- and other public documents around 2000. Title researchers produced huge efficiencies by accessing the documents on the Web. However, the sensitive information public documents often displayed -- like Social Security numbers, addresses and account numbers -- left citizens more vulnerable to identity thieves.

Numerous governments have already redacted Social Security numbers, and many others plan to do the same. Technology designed to redact information from those already on-record documents has been crude and inaccurate. Redact-It Desktop, another Informative Graphics product released earlier this year may resolve common complaints about redaction products already on the market.

Most redaction software redacts Social Security numbers by blacking out the section of the electronic public documents where the numbers are supposed to appear. But in the past, lenders often forced clients filling out UCC forms to write their Social Security numbers in additional spots on the documents. For example, a lender might make a client write his or her Social Security number under the signature as well as the normal spot for Social Security numbers. It differs from document to document, and typical software can't redact those extra numbers without knowing where on the documents to find the numbers. Governments usually wait for citizens to point out the errant Social Security numbers and redact them at that point.

Redact-It Desktop solves that problem by "intelligently" searching documents for information needing redaction.

"We've been working on the technology for three years," Heath said, adding that he wasn't authorized yet to name any government customers using the product.

Most governments electronically store scanned public records as "dumb" documents, meaning they're not searchable. Governments wanting to use Redact-It Desktop need to run the "dumb" documents through an optical character recognition device first. That makes the documents searchable. Informative Graphics partners with a vendor called Kofax to do that.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.