May 10, 2004

Behind the Redactions

Filed under: commons — Wendy @ 2:31 pm

The New York Times reports researchers in Europe used cryptography techniques to decipher redacted government documents. Illuminating blacked-out words (no-reg link via CNet)

By realigning the document, it was possible to use another program Whelan had written to determine that it had been formatted in the Arial font. Next, they found the number of pixels that had been blacked out in the sentence: “An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an xxxxxxxx service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.” They then used a computer to determine the pixel length of words in the dictionary when written in the Arial font.

Unfortunately, we’ll need this technique more and more against our close-lipped government. The ACLU had to wait weeks merely to release a heavily redacted complaint challenging use of National Security Letters to obtain unidentified data from an unidentified ISP. The Washington Post, channeling the Onion, headlined its coverage of the suit Patriot Act Suppresses News Of Challenge to Patriot Act.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve done some less complex decryptions on that ACLU document.

    I think the plaintiff is three uppercase letters. and one of the words associated with it is “e-commerce”, and the state is 8 or 9 letters.

    It didn’t seem worth doing more.

    Comment by Seth Finkelstein — May 10, 2004 @ 5:03 pm

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