The Corner

PDF Layers in Obama’s Birth Certificate

We have received several e-mails today calling into question the validity of the PDF that the White House released, namely that there are embedded layers in the document. There are now several other people on the case. We looked into it and dismissed it.

The PDF is composed of multiple images. That’s correct. Using a photo editor or PDF viewer of your choice, you can extract this image data, view it, hide it, etc. But these layers, as they’re being called, aren’t layers in the traditional photo-editing sense of the word. They are, quite literally, pieces of image data that have been positioned in a PDF container. They appear as text but also contain glyphs, dots, lines, boxes, squiggles, and random garbage. They’re not combined or merged in any way. Quite simply, they look like they were created programmatically, not by a human.

What’s plausible is that somewhere along the way — from the scanning device to the PDF-creation software, both of which can perform OCR (optical character recognition) — these partial/pseudo-text images were created and saved. What’s not plausible is that the government spent all this time manufacturing Obama’s birth certificate only to commit the laughably rookie mistake of exporting the layers from Photoshop, or whatever photo editing software they are meant to have used. It’s likely that whoever scanned the birth certificate in Hawaii forgot to turn off the OCR setting on the scanner. Let’s leave it at that.

UPDATE: I’ve confirmed that scanning an image, converting it to a PDF, optimizing that PDF, and then opening it up in Illustrator, does in fact create layers similar to what is seen in the birth certificate PDF. You can try it yourself at home.

UPDATE II: For those of you who still aren’t convinced, here’s a one-page PDF that I just scanned and optimized, so you can see for yourself that an optimized PDF shows up in Illustrator as layers. (I didn’t spend hours getting the settings right.)

Nathan GouldingNathan Goulding is the Chief Technology Officer of National Review. He often goes by “Chaka” in NRO’s popular blog The Corner. While having never attended a class in computer science, ...

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