Written on January 12, 2004 by Scott Bassett
One of the least well-kept secrets of law office word processing is that Microsoft Word saves as hidden information a great deal of data about who created a document, who modified it and when, and what those modifications were. If the recipient of one of your Word files knows where to look, he or she can learn a great deal more than you want to reveal. When you send legal document to a client or opposing counsel for review, your best bet is to convert it to an uneditable “image” format such as PDF (Adobe Acrobat). But if you need to send it in Word format, make sure your case, client, and career are not jeopardized by the hidden information, called “metadata” that is transmitted with that document.
Until now, effectively stripping metadata required that you buy a third-party utility such as Metadata Assistant from Payne Consulting Group. Last week Microsoft finally stepped up to the plate and offered a free utility of its own to strip metadata from Word and Excel documents. The catch is that it works only with Office XP and Office 2003. If you are using an older version of MS Office (such as 2000 or 97), the additional law-firm friendly features in Word XP and Word 2003 make an upgrade more than worthwhile anyway. The new tool is called the Remove Hidden Data Tool. It is available as a free download from Microsoft here. By the way, it only works with the Windows XP operating system. This is yet another reason to ditch you old Windows 98 or ME dinosaur and buy something more modern, speedy, reliable, and efficient.