What They Didn’t Teach You in Law School #8: How to Send a Word Document Without Unintentionally Revealing Private Data

In law school, you probably wrote a few briefs for class. After finishing, saving and editing, you may have simply saved your brief as a .doc file. Then, you might have sent your email to your professor in an email.

Whenever you create, open or save a document in Microsoft Word, the document may automatically store information somewhere in an unseen portion of your document.

This information, referred to as “metadata” can include a lot of important and potentially private information, such as your name, company, revisions, hidden text, comments or other file properties.

While you cannot see this information just by opening a document, some metadata can be easily accessed through the user interface of each Office program or by opening the document in a low-level, binary file editor.

In other words, in a moment of frustration, when you typed, “I hate this class,” it is possible that your professor could have seen that information.

This might or might not have been a big deal in law school, but as an attorney, metadata viewed by opposing counsel, clients or non-clients could pose serious risks to your client or your law firm’s security.

Luckily, there are a few simple ways to ensure that private information stored as metadata does not get into the wrong hands.

  • If you are not concerned with formatting, Copy and Paste Special – Unformatted Text into a new blank document. If you are concerned with formatting, Copy and Paste all text into a new blank document. This will remove Tracked Changes or Deleted Comments but not all metadata.
  • It you are sending out a document that does not require co-editing, send it as a PDF file. PDF files will contain some metadata but it will not show Tracked Changes or Comments, and the title, subject, author and keyword fields will remain blank unless you submit that information manually. You can also eliminate all data in a PDF file by saving it as a TIFF file, but this will save each page of your document as a separate file.
  • Use a Remove Hidden Data tool or a metadata scrubber. If you have Microsoft Word 2003, download and install the Remove Hidden Data tool for Office 2003 and Office XP. If you have Office 2007, Remove Hidden Data tools will be built into Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Some computer forensics experts, however, suggest that free Microsoft tools are imperfect, so you may consider purchasing a third-party metadata scrubber that will ensure private data is removed (while also allowing you to view metadata saved in other files).