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How to Redact a PDF

How to Redact a PDF

by Marta Calsina

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

Here, we explain how to redact a PDF, when it’s necessary to do it, and why it’s so important to do it properly.

What Is Redacting?

Redacting is the process of removing visible information from a document while leaving the rest of the document intact. It can be done by hiding or blocking out individual words, sentences, paragraphs, or even removing whole pages. This information can consist of text, numbers, images, graphics, or similar.

When Should You Redact a PDF?

It’s necessary to redact a PDF when the document contains confidential or sensitive information that cannot or should not be disclosed to a third party, as well as data that is protected under data protection legislation. Commonly redacted information can include the following:

  1. Text that contains sensitive information, such as names, addresses, contact details, past medical records, criminal offence data, etc.
  2. Numbers, like telephone numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, etc.
  3. Images, including photographs, graphics, etc.
  4. Other information that you might want to remove could include attachments or metadata. For example, email metadata discloses the time and date the email was sent, the sender’s IP address, etc. Files on most mobile devices or cameras include the date, time, and maybe even username details related to the photo in the metadata.

Depending on the type of business or administrative procedure, redaction might also be required by the institution, state, international legislation, etc. Sometimes it can just be informal situations where someone has to share certain information contained in a document without revealing the sensitive data it contains. For example, someone might need to share an agreement with a friend just for them to use it as a template while removing compromised data.

In fact, redaction is something that all individuals or entities from any field or industry should know about.

In older times, thick permanent marker pens were used to blot out the information, which is completely pointless nowadays with digital documents. Redacting a digital document is a delicate and not-so-easy task and the main challenge is hiding the sensitive information while keeping the document’s formatting. The way one should carry out the redaction will depend on the degree of confidentiality of the information, as well as its structure. The most common way to perform redaction is to select the chosen information and make it appear as a black box.

How to Redact a PDF

Smallpdf’s PDF Editing Tool can also be used in case you need to redact text on any document. Even if your document comes in any other format, you can use our Convert PDF tool, which will allow you to convert different file types to PDF. Head over to this article to learn more about How to Black Out Text in a PDF with the Smallpdf Editing Tool.

The first step is to identify and locate all the information that needs to be redacted. A checklist might be helpful in larger or more complex redaction tasks. Once you’ve identified all the content that needs to be hidden, you should be ready to get started with redaction.

But first! A few things to mention before you start. Keep in mind that redaction involves the modification of information and data. Redaction should not be carried out on the original document, since there might be data that is still needed for other purposes. We therefore recommend working on a copy of the document in order to avoid altering the integrity of the original information. Don’t take risks!

Never rely on techniques like highlighting or changing the color of the text. It’s not the same as redaction and it’s a common mistake. The text still can be seen by highlighting it or by copying and pasting it into a text editor and therefore remains legible or recoverable. See an example of data being highlighted in the image down below.

highlighted text in editor

Highlighted text in a text editor.

You will see that if the boxes are selected with a cursor, the data still can be seen. Another tip: Copy and paste the content to another document to check if the redaction has been done correctly. In that case the redaction “blocks” will be copied across.

Once you’re done redacting, it’s important to read over the document carefully to ensure that all the content to be redacted has been blacked out. Bear in mind that a poorly done redaction can end in very negative consequences, such as leaking of sensitive or confidential information and lead to penalties or fines. Even in the most harmless cases, bad redacting can still affect credibility.

There’s no ideal solution yet for removing specific content while leaving some sort of indication of removal and also leaving the content undisturbed. Another option, instead of blacking out information on a PDF, would be to remove it altogether, which is possible by converting the PDF to Word first.

Got a PDF that needs redacting?

Marta Calsina foto
Marta Calsina
Digital marketing