But in each of these cases, at least finding the hidden data took some work by someone who knew a thing or two about computers. Sometimes "hidden" data is so easy to spot, you can do it completely by accident ...
World Governments Don't Understand How to Use a Computer to Redact Documents
Redacting is basically when the government (or whoever) declassifies a document but blacks out all the sensitive information. One would think that modern technology would make the redacting of documents easier and more secure than ever, since the documents in question don't even exist in a tangible form. In reality, the exact opposite of this is true, and governments around the world catastrophically fail at redaction all the goddamned time, even when it comes to serious life-threatening secrets.
For example, the CIA released a redacted report called "Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran" in June of 2000. The original report contained the names of several CIA agents operating in foreign countries, but was released to the public with the names of those agents and their informants redacted, as there was an obvious risk that either they or their families could face retribution. However, the redaction was evidently headed up by Brigadier General Harcourt T. Failureburg, because rather than remove the agents' names, a separate image of a black bar was simply placed on top of each sensitive line but never combined into a single image.
"More to the left ... more ... more ... there we go."
So what's the problem? Well, your computer loads the text and the bars separately. The text first. On a fast computer this wouldn't matter, because the images would appear simultaneously, but if the document were opened on a slow computer, the sensitive lines would appear for all the world to see. Therefore, if you stopped the page before it finished loading, you could see the entire non-redacted report, stumbling ass-backwards into a master hack of top-level government secrets purely because you own an old, shitty computer.
The only saving grace was that the report was already 50 years old, so the risks to the individuals named were fairly minimal (and if the motion picture Red is to be believed, assassination attempts on elderly secret agents are both breezy and hilarious). But then there was the time in 2005 when U.S. troops in Iraq accidentally fired upon several Italian citizens, presumably because they had standing orders to shoot anything with facial hair. The Italian government demanded a response, so the U.S. released a redacted report on the altercation to appease them. Unfortunately, it was an electronic PDF with the redacted portions covered by a digital black highlighter, instead of just using an actual marker on the physical document and running the damn thing through a scanner.
Though, to be fair, sometimes the copy machine is in use, so you have to find other means.
Sure enough, an Italian blogger quickly found a way to remove the electronic redactions (harnessing all of his cunning to simply right-click the censored portions), and then posted the entire report online with names, operational details and unit positions now visible for the entire world to see, which is likely the most hateful thing done by an Italian since World War II.
The U.S. isn't the only government clumsily spilling things like a dude with a hangover trying to cook breakfast. In April 2011 the Ministry of Defence in Britain released several documents online under the Freedom of Information Act. The reports were all heavily redacted, but once again the redactions were done electronically and in a frighteningly unsecure manner -- the U.K. military had literally just Photoshopped black strips over the redacted areas.
"Yeah, that's should work. Just hit enter and call it a day."
All anyone had to do was highlight the text, then copy and paste it into a new document and the redactions disappeared completely. This goof wound up revealing several juicy tidbits such as expert opinions on how well the U.K. fleet could cope with a catastrophic accident, measures used by the U.S. Navy to protect its nuclear submarines, and a report that said the existing U.K. submarine reactors were "potentially vulnerable" to fatal accidents, helpfully letting enemies of the Crown know that to defeat the Royal Navy in an underwater battle, all they have to do is wait.
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