May 5, 2005
Not-So-Obvious Features of Electronic Documents Can Haunt
In an interesting twist to the release of a U.S. government report surrounding the death of Italian agent Nicola Calipari in Iraq, the PDF version of the report had redacted text that apparently was revealed through the simple cut and paste technique. The report's prepared had apparently blacked out portions of the text by inserting black triangles over existing text rather than deleting that text. Thus, the information was hidden and not removed. The details of this are reported in this CNET news article. There is a related CNET story from March of last year that discusses the same issues with Microsoft Word.
Although the articles don't mention this, there is an implication for libraries. In academics, libraries sometimes are used to investigate plagiarism charges. Revealing hidden text can certainly offer more detail for analysis. The flip side, of course, is the deletion (but non-removal) of information from business or other documents. The second CNET story, for example, focuses on documents prepared in a lawsuit brought against DaimlerChrysler by SCO. Apparently, the suit was targeted against the Bank of America. The documents, however, were edited at a point in time to substitute BOA with DaimlerChrysler.
If there is a flip flip side, then it is for each of us to remember that any document we create electronically and subsequently distribute may have sensitive or embarrassing text hidden away just waiting to be discovered. Although I'm not completely familiar with techniques to avoid this problem, I'm going to spend some time looking for preventative measures. When I find relevant materials, I'll post references to the Blog.
Before I close this post, I'll just ask, what other government documents out there might have this same problem?
Mark Giangrande, De Paul Law Library
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