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Government Causes Its Own Leak With Adobe Glitch

Howard Bashman comments  on this story from the New York Times (6/22/06), reporting that eight pages of a 51-page government brief filed in federal court that had been blacked out to protect sensitive information concerning a grand jury investigation of steroid use in baseball can be viewed by cutting and pasting the passages into a word-processing document. Apparently, the government had converted the document to PDF, either to conform to court filing rules (in my experience, most federal courts require filings in PDF) or, perhaps, in an attempt to scrub the metadata from the document.  Whatever the reason,  the Adobe tools used to "black out" the sensitive passages did not survive conversion back to Word format (the Times article even includes a diagram showing how the blacked-out portions were revealed).

Bashman's comment on all of this:

So you can use Adobe Acrobat to avoid Microsoft Word's metadata problem, but apparently Adobe Acrobat's redact function does not truly hide the document's text if the text is merely blackened-out.

Meanwhile, the article poses a larger ethics question for attorneys:  If we receive a PDF document with a blacked-out section, is conversion to Word in an effort to access the privileged sections an ethics violation?  Or is the onus on the party creating the document to take appropriate measures to protect confidential information and access of that information by the receiving party through whatever means possible is fair game?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 23, 2006 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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