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Redlined Word doc prematurely reveals UK govt policy

Do I have to speak to these tossers? 'I'm so delighted to be here...'

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The perils of making forward looking statements via Word files have been highlighted after a UK government department inadvertently revealed government policy hidden in the document's revision history.

Mandarins at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions distributed a file containing internal comments made during the drafting stage, and according to today's Guardian, even featured policy commitments not intended to be made public. A revision history including redlined private drafting comments was included in the version of the file made public.

"A proper version was issued electronically but because of a technical error it was possible to read earlier working drafts by officials," a spokesperson for the DTLR confirmed to us today.

"Speeches go through a lot of drafting but they are supposed to remain private," an official is cited in The Guardian, which reports that officials had been "keeping their fingers crossed" that no one would notice.

A policy pledge not to cap local authority spending was visible in the revision history, but not in the final 'public draft', with the comment "Can we make more of this?" reports The Graun.

The Department spokesperson told us that the Graun had overplayed the difference between the drafts, which were "simply stylistic".

This isn't the first time that a word processing document has revealed more than it should. During the US vs Microsoft anti trust trial, our very own Graham Lea unearthed a stash of testimony in a deposition by PC manufacturer Gateway, that had been hidden from view by er, ... colouring the text white. Not exactly the most cunning steganographic technique we've ever encountered. Particularly as Gateway - a Microsoft customer in fear of retribution from the Beast - had demanded that the information "be treated at the highest level of confidentiality".

And word processor documents don't even have to contain hidden text. Examing the file's attribute tags can reveal all kinds of information such as the author's name and phone number.

What's wrong with plain old ASCII, we wondered. Would the Department have second thoughts on sending out Word files after this episode, we asked our spokesperson?

"I have my line and I'm sticking to it," she replied.

Not yet, then. ®

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