Redacted: To put into suitable literary form; revise, edit. To hide or remove (confidential parts of a text) before publication or distribution. – Dictionary.com
During my time as a court and cops reporter for the Brookings Register in the 1970s, I rarely came across records that had been “redacted,” which is a five-dollar word for “edited.”
Redacted, in the news lately because of the release of the Mueller report on President Trump, simply means that words have been blacked out or deleted to prevent certain identities or information from being made public.
Sometimes, a court document will have certain words or phrases redacted to protect the identity of a minor in a lawsuit, for example.
Sensitive and private information in a court settlement may also be redacted, such as a person’s Social Security number or bank account numbers. Another example would be when parties in a lawsuit agree to a settlement but do not want the amount to be made public. Many times, those documents are sealed by the court and are not available to reporters. Other times, the documents are available but in redacted form.
It’s not uncommon for some information in a restraining order or protection order to be redacted because lawmakers and courts have decided that the rights of individuals involved in such cases take precedence over the public’s right to know.
Although our republic operates under the premise of “transparency” and openness in government, even the most aggressive reporter would acknowledge that some information deserves to be kept private.
Sometimes the option of redaction could be used by authorities, but isn’t. A case in point is the infamous Taft Hotel fire in Chamberlain nearly 30 years ago. An arsonist torched the historic landmark but no one was ever charged with the crime. As a retired newspaperman with an interest in history, I set about to find out why the mystery was never solved.
What I determined was that the information about how the investigation was conducted, who was interviewed, and what investigatory methods were used was not open for public review – even 25 years later. Regrettable.
I suggested to the state Department of Criminal Investigation that a redacted version of the reports would be in order but that idea was rejected.
Redaction is necessary, at times, and as a reporter, editor and publisher, I always understood the reasons for it. However, as the expunging of sensitive information in the Mueller probe illustrates, there will always be differences of opinion as to the appropriateness of the redactions.
April 24, 2019