Beware Your Trail of Digital Fingerprints

The NYT has an interesting article on how metadata can trap the unwary. It discusses the example of an unsigned Microsoft Word document that was circulated by the Democratic National Committee. The memo referred to the "anti-civil rights and anti-immigrant rulings" of Samuel A. Alito Jr., a federal appeals court judge who has been recently nominated for the Supreme Court by President Bush, following the Miers debacle.

The article describes metadata as "sort of the DNA of documents created with modern word-processing software. By default, it is automatically saved into the deep structure of a file, hidden from view, with information that can hint at authorship, times and dates of revisions (along with names of editors) and other tidbits that, while perhaps useful to those creating the document, might be better left unseen by the wider world. "

Metadata and other document gaffes have tripped up other organizations, sometimes with more embarrassing results. The best recent example is the United Nations report on Syria's suspected involvement in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. It was a damning report for Syria by any standard, but recipients of a version of the report that went out on Oct. 20 were able to track the editing changes, which included the deletion of names of officials allegedly involved in the plot, including the Syrian president's brother and brother-in-law.

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