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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.
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.)