Feds help create PDF archiving standard

A number of federal agencies are working to create an archiving version of the Portable Document Format, offered by Adobe Systems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. The version will be submitted to the International Organization for Standardization for approval as an international standard.

The committee hopes to release a draft of the PDF/A standard by early next year with a final standard out by the end of 2005, said committee member Stephen Levenson, who works in the administrative office of the U.S. Courts.

Levenson spoke today at the monthly meeting of the Federal Publishers Committee.

Representatives from the Agriculture Department, the Defense Department, the Internal Revenue Service, Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Library of Medicine are helping create the standard. Adobe and a number of other companies are also involved.

Federal agencies are grappling with the issue of archiving documents for long-term storage. The task is a difficult one given the ever-changing nature of the IT industry, Levenson said. Software or operating systems in use today may be hard to locate 50 years from now. Agencies need to ensure the information they have is available for the public. Levenson said that his own agency, the U.S. Courts, is in the midst of converting to an electronic filing system, so the agency wants to ensure that the files it archives will remain easily readable for the ages.

This standard addresses the need for long-time archiving of PDF documents, Levenson said. Adobe openly publishes the specifications of PDF, so other organizations, such as commercial companies and government organizations, can create their own software that reads or creates PDF files. Such software, however, may add extra features or functionality that will not be availability to all users, thus creating a potential problem of agencies being unable to access certain segments of a PDF file. Adobe also licenses certain technologies for use in its PDF reader software, such as compression algorithms or fonts, that may not always be freely available.

PDF/A will codify a stripped-down version of PDF that will not rely on external technologies and will be platform-agnostic. The committee is proposing, for instance, that all the fonts that are used in a PDF/A document be embedded in the document itself. PDF/A will also standardize aspects of meta-tagging, color representation and multiple language support.

Once the standard is completed, the committee hopes that software vendors will incorporate it into their own PDF readers and generators. Levenson envisions PDF creation software that has the PDF/A standard as a 'save-as' option, whereupon the document being saved is checked for compliance.

This version of PDF/A, version 1, will also prohibit the use of scripts or executable programs'such as calculations'within the document itself. It will also bar the embedding of video and sound files.

'These will be static documents,' Levenson said.

PDF/A will be based on version 1.4 of Adobe's PDF specification, which the company released to the public domain.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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