Red tape is a derisive term for excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to government, but can also be applied to other organizations like corporations.
It usually involves a collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.
The origins of the term are obscure, but it alludes to the 17th and 18th century English practice of binding documents and official papers with red tape and were popularized in the writings of Thomas Carlyle protesting against official inertia with expressions like "Little other than a red tape Talking-machine, and unhappy Bag of Parliamentary Eloquence." To this day most barristers' briefs are tied in a pink coloured ribbon known as red tape.
Traditionally, Vatican official documents were also bound in red cloth tape.
Another origin tale circulated is that all American Civil War veterans' records were bound in red tape, and the difficulty in accessing them led to the current use of the term, but there is evidence that the term was in use in its modern sense sometime before this.