Wednesday, December 7, 2011

PDF Isn't Permanent.

Recently I received an E-mail solicitation for a product called PDF Security Removal.  As many of you know, there are settings that work with Adobe Reader that supposedly keep a PDF document from being printed or saved.  So one more "advantage" of PDF electronic documents to serve as the permenant case file record is now obsolete.

But this has actually been the case for years as many products allow for "editing" of PDF documents.  For example, I recently upgraded my favorite PDF reader software so that I could deal with the tens of documents that needed to be signed for a detailed financial transaction.  The choice was to print the documents, manually sign them with a pen and scan and e-mail them or... upgrade and create a signature image (transparent PNG file) for me and my wife and sign them with the "rubber stamp" tool (see sample image below).

I then opened the PDF documents, "stamped them" with our signatures and saved the documents with the merged signatures and dates.  An ecologically sound solution as no trees had to die for those documents if I do say so.

What would have been better is to use a cloud electronic signature system such as EchoSign that was recently purchased by Adobe; or similar products from DocuSign or Yozons.  The benefit of a cloud-based e-signature is that it provides independent verification of the documents instead of the presentation of letterhead, seals, and signatures that are often lacking in today's electronic world.

To close, there is an interesting article supporting this point posted by Adobe regarding a $130 million dollar contractual error that resulted from the use of paper contracts that wouldn't have been allowed in an electronic signature environment.


  1. Thank you for the reference to Yozons, a web-based electronic signature provider since 2001.

    Note that this is not just a PDF issue, but any electronic record, and certainly paper is worse because pages can be swapped out. But the idea is the same, not matter the file format: just create a new version that says what you want and claim it's the original.

    Only with a digital signature applied in a trusted manner, including a timestamp, can you really ensure which version is an original. And interestingly, the more digital signatures applied, the more trusted the signature, similar to how using credit wisely improves your credit worthiness. A lone document with a digital signature may be hard to prove because you need to associate the keys used with the entity/person that signed.

  2. A digital signature gives the security that the message was created by a known sender, and that it was not altered. It really has to be permanent, otherwise there´s no security.

  3. Exactly the point. The courts as publishers should provide the verification capability for documents. See Trust and E-Filing article for more: