How to Read Blacked Out Text

By Stuart Robertson

Updated September 28, 2017

Items you will need

  • Image processing software

  • Digital copy of redacted document

Top secret documents may sometimes be redacted.
i Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Blacking out text, which is more commonly known as redacting text, is used to hide sensitive information from those who are not privy to that information. Sometimes portions of a document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, for instance, will be redacted to obscure sensitive information within the document. If a document is properly redacted then there will be no way to see the blacked out portion. There have been instances, most notably a TSA screening manual in 2009, where documents were not properly redacted and the blacked out text was revealed.

Load the digital copy of the redacted document into an image processing program like Photoshop or GIMP. If you have a paper copy then there is no way to reveal the blacked out portions of the document.

Look for layers left on the document. In GIMP, a free image processing program, layers are found in the right hand pane, under the header "Layers." Try selecting the black rectangles to see if they can be deleted. If the image was saved in a format that preserved this kind of image information, such as the ".psd" format in Photoshop, then information like this may still be manipulable.

Try selecting text from one side of a blacked out area to the other side. In the case of the TSA manual leak in 2009, black rectangles were placed over the text, but the text was still there underneath the black rectangles, and could be copied and pasted to another document.

Obtain an original copy of the document through the proper channels. This will require that you have the necessary credentials to access the document in question.


Accessing or disseminating redacted information that you do not have the necessary credentials for is, in some cases, illegal.