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I was reading, let's say a policy statement or terms of use document, and at the bottom of each page it had printed in a footer:

THIS DOCUMENT IS UNCONTROLLED IN HARD COPY FORMAT

For example you can see the exact thing on each page of this document and something similar on the first page of this document, which says:

This document is uncontrolled when printed

Also in this document the notice is similar but longer; at the bottom of each page says:

THIS DOCUMENT IS UNCONTROLLED WHEN IN HARD COPY FORMAT OR STORED IN ANY ELECTRONIC FORMAT OTHER THAN IN THE BUSINESS MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

The last document is from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The other two are from an Irish source and NASA.

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    Check out What Is a Document Control System? and similar. – FumbleFingers Aug 27 '19 at 13:01
  • @FumbleFingers I guess it's an IT term? What I've understood is that it means updated or the latest revision, though I'm sure it means more than that in IT terms. – Zebrafish Aug 27 '19 at 13:32
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    Once the document leaves the domain of the document management system, its content cannot be controlled – and is therefore unreliable in any other format than its original. – Weather Vane Aug 27 '19 at 13:35
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    It means it is untracked and can't be rescinded. With an electronic document on an secured computer or fire-walled server, a document can be deleted everywhere at the same time such that it ceases to exist, or changed everywhere at once so that its prior versions can't be seen. Once a hard copy is made, it becomes immutable and can go anywhere and can be copied by anyone, making it so that the author or the company or whatever or whoever has control over who sees it because of it existing only electronically and not on paper loses that control. – Benjamin Harman Aug 27 '19 at 13:56
  • Contrarily, I worked in one office where documents were only available in hard copy, and one made a request to the document office. This was because workers would download a copy to their workstation, edit it, and distribute it (externally) so it became impossible to control or verify. – Weather Vane Aug 27 '19 at 14:29
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An uncontrolled document is one whose content is no longer controlled in accord with the security standards of an organization. Document management systems have existed for several decades (see A Machine-based Document System, written by M. R. Powell in 1962 or a book about Lockheed's document management system published in 1987), and they may be paper-based, digital, or both.

The precise definitions of uncontrolled document vary from organization to organization, but in general the label suggests that the document is not credible or reliable for use, especially in sensitive operations. For example, Samaritan Health Services defines a controlled document and specifies it cannot be used when providing service guidance:

A document that was removed from or never part of the controlled document system. Uncontrolled documents may not be used to provide service direction or information necessary for the performance of service. Examples of uncontrolled documents are training aides and informal communication tools.

And NASA gives this definition, specifying printing or duplication:

Uncontrolled Copies. Those that are printed from the Master List system or duplications of the signed hard-copy document.

As you've experienced, organizations may choose to release copies of documents in an uncontrolled format with an explicit label. Their rules may also designate documents as uncontrolled even when not labeled.

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  • Thank you. So in some uses documents are kept in what is called a "document control/management system", where only authorized people are allowed to make changes to them, and this system ensures that the document is the latest revision and authorized version. Hard copies may have the notice about it being an "uncontrolled document". I'm just wondering, the printed copy of a document that you pick up at a bank or something that is available for anyone to take at any time, and that doesn't have this notice, is this "uncontrolled"? Or would that depend on whether it's part of a control system? – Zebrafish Aug 27 '19 at 23:02

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