Exposing poorly redacted PDFs

Privacy watchdog group, National Legal and Policy Center has released a PDF detailing Google founder Larry Page’s home (dowload PDF here). They used Google’s Maps and Street View to assemble all of the information. Google is currently involved in a lawsuit resulting from a Street View vehicle traveling and documenting a private road. This PDF was released in response to Google stating that “complete privacy does not exist”.

For some reason the PDF is redacted with black boxes. We threw together a simple screencast (click through for HiDef) to show how to easily bypass the boxes using free tools. You can simply cut and paste the hidden text and images can be copied as well-no need to break out Illustrator. This sort of redaction may seem trivial, but the US military has fallen victim to it in the past.


  1. matt says:

    isn’t the most secure way to redact a document the following?

    a) print it out. (on a printer without the yellow dot tracking feature)
    b) cut out the parts you don’t want anyone to see.
    c) scan it back in.

    looks like National Legal and Policy Center didn’t want everyone to know the google exec’s home address.


  2. Stan says:

    that will only work if the redaction was done in acrobat 8, acrobat 9 fixed that.

  3. BigD145 says:

    You can also use PDF Download for Firefox and open a PDF as HTML.

  4. RED_404 says:

    Or in acrobat9 pro click Document/Examine Document
    then a new sidebar will open in that expand Hidden text and click show preview
    I think you can figure out the rest

  5. Janne says:

    To remove the black boxes, just upen the PDF in Adobe Illustrator och delete the boxes.

  6. localroger says:

    matt, you can do it completely digitally. the key is to convert to a pure graphic image and add the boxes with a graphic editor. there are a number of free pseudo print drivers that will output .bmp, edit with mspaint or whatever, and paste into adobe or even openoffice which will then be unaware that the image contains text at all.

  7. Dirwin517 says:

    did anyone think mayb that was googles point, ther tryin to prove thers no such thing as true privacy and low and behold its realy easy to c wat they hid in that pdf, idk thats what i thought

  8. jeicrash says:

    YAWN! Why not just re-edit the pdf and delete the information you don’t want shown?

    Too many people are complaining about google earth. Its no more info then what someone would get by driving by your house themselves. “Private drives”, HA, one trip to the local court house and you can get blue-prints of anyones house. So what good is a private drive?

  9. John says:

    I modified the PDF with Illustrator for your reading pleasure :)

  10. David says:

    Lol, it’s even easier on Ubuntu. With the eVince document viewer, a preloaded app, all you have to do is highlight over the black boxes and it shows the text underneath.

  11. Roy Brookes says:

    There is redaction software that will remove sensitive information permanently from the electronic document, http://www.rapidredact.com
    is one such product.

  12. Roy Brookes says:
  13. Eric says:

    The folks over at Atalasoft made a .NET SDK to make redacting easy on the web. It basically uses a black rectangle annotation and you can program it to make a flattened image-only PDF out of it.

  14. Darvula says:

    Is it possible to remove a “redact” placed over a picture that was made in the paint program? (the picture and text was basically just “painted” over in black)

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