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Uphold Privacy by Redacting PII in Legal Documents

Redacting Personally Identifiable Information from Legal Documents is mandatory. All shared files must be free of PII at all costs!
by Naeem Ullah Baig Updated on December 21, 2023

A vast amount of personally identifiable information (PII) circulates daily in most industries, including the legal sector.

This sensitive data must be fortified, as it can be used to steal identities, credit card numbers, bank account details, and other personal information. Plus, the slightest of vulnerabilities can incriminate evidence, making it inadmissible.

For instance, in the FTC Vs. Microsoft suit, the evidence handed in by Sony was struck from the record as they failed to redact information about their PlayStation business — which wasn’t meant for the public.

This is alarming as hacking attempts are made every 39 seconds, and 71% of these breaches are aimed at financial gains.

To make things worse, according to the ABA’s Legal Service report, 27% of law firms claimed that their firm faced a breach last year. The surprising part was that 25% of firms had no idea if they met a data breach.

Keeping all this in mind, strict compliances are in place to ensure privacy, and if things don’t pan out, law firms can face hefty fines, public outcry, and civil suits.

In this blog, we'll explore the importance of privacy when it comes to legal documents and why you must redact them.

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What is PII?

Personal identified information (PII) is a legal term that defines data that can lead to one’s identity.

Its classification differs from country to country; for instance, in the US, The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines PII as information like name, social security number, and biometric records, which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity.

Whereas, in Europe, PII is defined as information that can identify a person via an ID number or factors specific to physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural, or social identity.

Besides that, the NIST PII Guide categorizes certain items as Personally Identifiable Information; these include:

NIST PII Guide

Full name (if not common)

Driver’s License

Face

Fingerprints

Home Address

Credit Card Number

Email

Digital Identity

Id Number

Date Of Birth

Passport Number

Birthplace

Vehicle Plate Number

Genetic Information

Phone Number

Login Name

Screen Name

Handwriting

Why is it Important to redact PII in Legal Documents?

Redaction generally removes or obscures confidential information from video, audio images, and documents before making them public.

When it comes to legal documents, attorneys and law enforcers must remove PII and other classified information.

Privacy-First-Why-You-Must-Redact-PII-in-Legal-Documents-Blog-Infographic

Here are the reasons for redacting PII from legal documents.

Privacy Protection

PII includes personal information such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, etc. Redacting this info safeguards individuals' privacy by preventing unauthorized access or disclosure of their data.

This is particularly important in legal proceedings where sensitive details may become public records.

Compliance with Data Protection Laws

Many jurisdictions have strict data protection laws and regulations in place, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and various state-level laws in the United States.

Failure to redact PII can lead to non-compliance with these laws, resulting in legal consequences and potential fines.

Preventing Identity Theft and Fraud

According to Forbes, 46% of organizations suffered reputational damages due to data breaches. To avoid such occurrences, timely redaction is very important.

Because if unredacted legal documents containing PII fall into the wrong hands, it may be used for fraudulent activities like identity theft and fraud, causing significant harm to the individuals involved.

Preserving the integrity of the legal process

By redacting PII and other sensitive information, legal and law enforcement teams can help ensure that the ongoing legal proceedings are fair and unbiased, as it prevents the release of potentially prejudicial information.

Preserving Trust and Confidence:

Clients and individuals who engage with the legal system trust that their personal information will be handled with care and confidentiality.

Redacting PII reinforces this trust and maintains confidence in the legal process. Keep in mind that most cases cannot be made public with the exact information they carry.

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Risks of PII Disclosure: Learning from Redaction Failures

The consequences for not redacting PII in discovery can range from embarrassing to expensive, all the way up to civil liability, and – depending on the circumstances – even criminal charges.

Let's explore serious issues that can happen when personal information is exposed, using real-life examples of mistakes in concealing information.

EU lawmakers have set strict rules for identifying and protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) since 2018.

These regulations impose hefty fines on companies, regardless of their location outside the EU, if they mishandle or improperly release an individual’s personal information.

For organizations found breaching GDPR, the potential fines can reach as high as 17 million euros or up to 4% of their total annual revenue.

In the case of schools obligated to protect student privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), non-compliance can result in losing their entire federal funding for the subsequent year.

Additionally, the California Attorney General has the authority to impose fines of up to $7,500 per violation, which could become significant depending on the extent of the privacy breach and the number of affected consumers.

What is an example of a PII violation?

In June 2016, House Democrats shared documents about Benghazi, thinking they were redacted. But a PDF glitch let people copy and reveal hidden info about Hillary Clinton's adviser, Sidney Blumenthal. This shows that digital redaction can be tricky and have political consequences when not done properly.

A similar redaction failure exposed confidential information about Apple's business dealings mistakenly included in a U.S. District Court opinion.

This incident underscores the risks to corporate confidentiality when sensitive information is not adequately redacted. Such disclosures can lead to financial losses, damage to reputation, and compromise negotiations.

This is not all; Citigroup made a huge redaction mistake, exposing 146,000 customers' PII, like social security numbers and birth dates. Software errors caused this breach, highlighting the need for financial institutions to follow strict redaction rules to safeguard customer data.

What is the importance of a Redaction Tool for PII redaction?

The significance of having a proper redaction tool becomes even more apparent when considering the limitations of certain manual redaction methods.

Methods like using text boxes, changing the font or background colors, highlighting, or even simply deleting information may appear to protect confidential data but can be easily altered, inadvertently revealing private information.

Moreover, the expense involved in providing training on various software packages for redaction can be substantial, not to mention the cost of manual redaction due to the extensive time and labor required.

Manual redaction can lead to significant overhead costs, especially in legal offices and courtrooms where massive amounts of data need to be processed.

Lastly, one of the most common challenges in redaction is the labor-intensive and error-prone nature of manual redaction. It consumes hours of valuable time and may introduce human errors, particularly in tasks involving meticulous detail.

The right redaction tool eliminates these concerns, enabling efficient identification and redaction of sensitive information while maintaining accuracy and confidentiality.

With AI-powered tools like the VIDIZMO redactor, legal and law enforcement officers can automate the lengthy redaction process, allowing practices to save time, cost, and energy.

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VIDIZMO Redactor! The Right Choice for PII Redaction in Legal Documents

VIDIZMO redactor allows both automatic and manual redaction. It enables efficient and accurate redaction, enhances collaboration, and ensures compliance and security.

It allows users to redact videos, audio, images, and documents. Here is how VIDIZMO helps redact PII in legal documents.

  • Bulk Document Redaction: Users can detect and redact words or phrases within documents. Moreover, investigators can use regular expression patterns to search for social security numbers, phone numbers, etc. Bulk document redaction helps to redact PII in large numbers of legal documents.
  • Multiple Redaction Styles: With the VIDIZMO Redactor, investigators can utilize AI-powered redaction by applying different styles such as blur, pixelate, or add solid redaction boxes over sensitive information within files.
  • OCR Detection: The functionality of OCR allows redacting scanned documents and handwritten notes.
  • Preview and Edit Options: Before finalizing your redacted documents, you can preview them and make any necessary changes or corrections. You can also undo or redo any actions during the redaction process.

This is not all: VIDIZMO Redactor provides countless other features to simplify the redaction process for organizations.

It is a compliant software through which organizations can ensure they meet requirements while improving their efficiency and accuracy in handling sensitive information.

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In today's legal landscape, safeguarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is paramount. VIDIZMO Redactor offers a solution beyond traditional methods, ensuring the utmost protection for sensitive data.

With its advanced capabilities and user-friendly interface, VIDIZMO Redactor empowers legal professionals to efficiently redact PII, streamline processes, and uphold compliance standards.

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Posted by Naeem Ullah Baig

Naeem is an Associate Product Marketing Analyst at VIDIZMO. Naeem is actively engaged in deciphering the legal and data privacy landscape and finds new ways to help cope with the modern data protection and security challenges. In case of any queries, feel free to reach out at websales@vidizmo.com.

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