Every nut-case Obama conspiracy theorist on the planet probably knows Barack Obama’s social-security number. It leaked out through a redaction error when Obama’s income tax filing was published. Remove the little black overlay, and voila, the number in all of its glory. The number was then publicized by Orly Taitz who included it in a court filing, marked out poorly (You can read about that in the article: “Somebody buy Orly a new black marker, please!”) at obots.org.
Millions of court documents are filed every year, and the federal PACER system makes many of them available to the public. Court rules require redaction of certain information such as social-security numbers and dates of birth, but that doesn’t mean it always happens. Sometimes it’s not redacted at all, and sometimes unredacted through a technical error. I found an unredacted social-security number in a court document once and I notified the clerk of court by email of the violation. The reply I got back was that it wasn’t the court’s problem, that I should contact a party in the case.
It turns out that there are literally thousands of examples of such unredacted private information in the federal court system and this is the subject of an article and study by Timothy B. Lee at the Freedom to Tinker blog: “Studying the Frequency of Redaction Failures in PACER.”
Over the years, I have seen several articles published for the legal community on redaction. (A pet peeve of mine is that one has to buy the Professional edition of Adobe Acrobat to get its redaction feature.) The NSA has tackled the issue in 3 papers included in the reading list that follows.