The Palin Emails and Redaction Technology


Today’s release of the Palin emails is prompting frustration among reporters, environmentalists and people who know how to use computers over the fact that the documents are being delivered in the form of a huge, $700+ stack of paper. As Luigi pointed out on Twitter, this decision is being attributed to the difficulty of performing redaction properly within an all-digital system.

This is something I’ve written about here before. Redaction mistakes do happen — the brilliant Tim Lee recently released some interesting work showing how to quantify just how often — but doing it properly isn’t rocket science. Digital workflows save time, money and material resources; and in cases like this one, they make it easier for the press to do its job. In other cases, like the one facing the PIDB, there’s simply no choice: they’ll never overcome the backlog they face without the help of information technology. It’s long past time for government to get over its skittishness about digital redaction.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments to this post. Jeremy Ashkenas — who has personally had to haul the Palin emails, in paper form, across Juneau — points out that the redaction workflow in this case does appear to have been digital… up to a point. The output, though, was thoroughly analog. If it’s not one thing it’s another…