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

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.

Read more:

About Dr. Conspiracy

I'm not a real doctor, but I have a master's degree.
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5 Responses to Redaction

  1. Another good article Doc!

    It was also through an improper redaction that we learned the identity of Birther Chalice. She posted a copy of one of her complaints in 2009 and she had ineffectively redacted her name. All you had to do was copy and past the text to Word to see her real name and address.

  2. Jim says:

    I believe we also found out the parents race from one of the Hawaii BC’s the birthers were trying use against Obama because of bad redacting.

  3. Yes, it was the birth certificate of Johanna Ah’Nee. WND published a redacted copy of the front with the name and race and names of the parents blacked out. Initially they didn’t black the name of the hospital but when the Obots noted it was the same as the hospital name on Obama’s birth certificate (which Birthers had claimed was proof of forgery) they replaced the image with one with more redactions. WND also published a copy of the back side to show the seal and the date stamp.

    John Woodman and I both figured out that by playing with the contrast and brightness you could read the birth certificate number and even the name from the back. Woodman also was able to figure our the race of the parents. this way. John called Ms Randolph (Ah’Nee) and she verified that John was correct. Later Orly Taitz published an un redacted copy.

    I believe we also found out the parents race from one of the Hawaii BC’s the birthers were trying use against Obama because of bad redacting.

  4. One time at work, we requested a copy of a competitors winning bid from a state agency. They sent us a copy with all of the material the competitor considered sensitive, proprietary and trade secret blacked out. Well …

  5. bob says:

    1. I would suggest that the Social Security Number once associated with Obama is no longer valid.

    2. Rondeau once posted an article about “a reader.” The unredacted barcode revealed that “the reader” was Rondeau.

    3. Let no one forget the “researcher” who registered as Obama for the Selective Service, but forgot to react that barcode.

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