Under OPRA, a government record that is otherwise publicly accessible may contain non-disclosable information that should be redacted. Redaction means editing a record to prevent public viewing of material that should not be disclosed. Words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole pages may be subject to redaction.
How to Redact
If a record contains material that must be redacted, such as a social security number or unlisted phone number, redaction may be accomplished by using a visually obvious method that shows the requester the specific location of any redacted material in the record.
For example, if redacting a social security number or similar type of small-scale redaction, custodian's should:
- Make a paper copy of the original record and manually "black out" the information on the copy with a dark colored marker;
- Then provide a copy of the blacked-out record to the requester.
The blacked out area shows where information was redacted, while the double copying ensures that the requester will not be able to "see-through" to the original, non-accessible text. If "white-out" correction fluid is used to redact material, some visual symbol should be placed in the space formerly occupied by the redacted material to show the location of redacted material.
If full pages are to be redacted, the custodian should give the requester a visible indication that a particular page of that record is being redacted, such as a blank sheet bearing the word "Page redacted" or a written list of the specific page numbers being withheld. The purpose is to provide formal communication to the requester making it clear that material was not provided.
If an electronic document is subject to redaction (i.e., word processing or Adobe Acrobat files) custodians should be sure to delete the material being redacted. Techniques such as "hiding" text or changing its color so it is invisible should not be used as sophisticated users can detect the changes.
Explaining Why A Redaction is Made
When redactions are made to a record, the custodian can use either the request form to explain why those elements of a record are redacted, or use a separate document, depending on the circumstances, but also referring to the OPRA exception being claimed. This principle also applies if pages of information are redacted. Sometimes it is clear from inspection (a entry called "Social Security Number" has a black out over where the number would appear). The bottom line is that the requester has a right to know the reason for the redaction, and the custodian has the responsibility to provide a reasonable explanation.
Denying Access to Records
N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5g states that if a custodian is unable to comply with a request for access, the custodian shall "indicate the specific basis therefore" on the request form and promptly return it to the requester. When a record is being withheld in its entirety, custodians must reply to the OPRA request and explain the reason why the custodian cannot comply with the request.