Have You Any Tales of Silly Redactions?

By Matthew Woodworth | November 5, 2012

During a recent visit to _________ ___________, an employee named ____________ expressed frustration about responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and some he felt were ridiculous.

This employee is not the only one. A UK news article illustrated the problem of silly questions asked under FOIA requests. The questions included...

  • What plans are in place to deal with an alien invasion (Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service)
  • How many holes in privacy walls between toilet cubicles have been found in public lavatories and within council buildings? (Cornwall Council)
  • How does the council manage to cope with the vagaries of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle? How does it function given the inherent unpredictability? (Wealden District Council)
  • How much money has been paid to exorcists over the past 12 months? (Cornwall Council)

Here's an example of bad redacting that's closer to home... when signs on the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre in Brantford, ON were changed, Brantford mayor Chris Friel wanted to know who made the decision. To understand why taxpayers ended up paying twice for building signs, a local newspaper requested and obtained the entire e-mail thread between the Mayor and various parties. Here's the email thread: http://www.scribd.com/doc/76604278/WGSC-Emails

Note the attempt to redact some individual email addresses manually, with a black magic marker... after printing the thread. Some addresses were still visible after this manual redaction effort.

  • You can see stamps throughout the document indicating it was provided as per section 14(1)(a) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. (Example on page 146)
  • On Page 135, the black magic-marker redaction still lets through some of the lettering...You can almost read, "and that no one need feel that xxx xxx this as a failure"
  • On Page 147, Dan McCreary's email address is intentionally redacted, although it is still plainly visible in his signature on the following page
  • There's an attempt to redact the identity of a contractor whose name shows later in some text like, "Begin Forwarded message from..."

Attempting to solve this kind of headache is why I met with _________ ___________ (agency mentioned above). In addition to a number of Government solutions around NARA/LAC compliant archiving... digitization... and processes... Adlib PDF can also help you with redaction.

  • How do you manage redaction in your organization?
  • Do you have an automated process in place or are you still struggling with magic markers?
  • What's the craziest FOIA request you've received (avoid identifiable/specific details)?
  • How much time do you spend dealing with manual redactions?

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