Skip to comments.Secret Code in Color Printers Lets Government Track You
Posted on 10/18/2005 6:54:07 AM PDT by antiRepublicrat
Tiny Dots Show Where and When You Made Your Print
San Francisco - A research team led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently broke the code behind tiny tracking dots that some color laser printers secretly hide in every document.
The U.S. Secret Service admitted that the tracking information is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers, ostensibly to identify counterfeiters. However, the nature of the private information encoded in each document was not previously known.
"We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer," said EFF Staff Technologist Seth David Schoen.
You can see the dots on color prints from machines made by Xerox, Canon, and other manufacturers (for a list of the printers we investigated so far, see: http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/list.php). The dots are yellow, less than one millimeter in diameter, and are typically repeated over each page of a document. In order to see the pattern, you need a blue light, a magnifying glass, or a microscope (for instructions on how to see the dots, see: http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/docucolor/).
EFF and its partners began its project to break the printer code with the Xerox DocuColor line. Researchers Schoen, EFF intern Robert Lee, and volunteers Patrick Murphy and Joel Alwen compared dots from test pages sent in by EFF supporters, noting similarities and differences in their arrangement, and then found a simple way to read the pattern.
"So far, we've only broken the code for Xerox DocuColor printers," said Schoen. "But we believe that other models from other manufacturers include the same personally identifiable information in their tracking dots."
You can decode your own Xerox DocuColor prints using EFF's automated program at http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/docucolor/index.php#program.
Xerox previously admitted that it provided these tracking dots to the government, but indicated that only the Secret Service had the ability to read the code. The Secret Service maintains that it only uses the information for criminal counterfeit investigations. However, there are no laws to prevent the government from abusing this information.
"Underground democracy movements that produce political or religious pamphlets and flyers, like the Russian samizdat of the 1980s, will always need the anonymity of simple paper documents, but this technology makes it easier for governments to find dissenters," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "Even worse, it shows how the government and private industry make backroom deals to weaken our privacy by compromising everyday equipment like printers. The logical next question is: what other deals have been or are being made to ensure that our technology rats on us?"
EFF is still working on cracking the codes from other printers and we need the public's help. Find out how you can make your own test pages to be included in our research at http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/wp.php#testsheets.
EFF has cracked the code for Xerox. Anybody can now know the print date and serial number of the Xerox color laser printer you use to print anything. Other brands coming soon.
So, FReepers, be careful of what you print.
Let's get "cracking" on those National Guard documents!
I can see the fnords...
I dunno...sounds a bit tinfoilesque to me.
The EFF might be many things, but they aren't tinfoilers.
Those printing money, drivers license, social security cards, false IDs etc. should worry a lot.....
I would think the analog B&W copying at Kinkos would destroy this.
Indeed, any B&W print would be safe.
Just avoid laser printers, from the look of things that are discussed here.
Liberals are going to hate this. Everytime they print fake documents aledging some famous republican was gay we can trace exactly what printer they used to forge em.
This was announced and started early last year.
"If you are not doing anything illegal, this should not bother you."
Yeah, and the Clintons didn't use the IRS to abuse their critics.
Print a criticle article: get harrassed. Heck, get investigated and spend $100,000 making sure you don't get railroaded into jail for doing nothing.
When thinking about government power, assume Hillary Clinton is president with Jame Carville running the FBI.
Seems that the issue is that laser printers are potentially (and are, actually) used by counterfitters and other document forgers to do their dirty deeds.
Using an inkjet is fine for most printed documents otherwise, for most people. Laser printers are great for profound b&w documents, so it also seems it's a case of color lasers being appealing to the wrong clients for their wrongful deeds.
Most people don't have all that much to protect that isn't already knowable to those who need to know, if/when there is or isn't criminal behavior going on. I don't LIKE the idea of being spied upon and read up on -- not at all -- but I'd just avoid color lasers and use an inkjet and not engage in forging documents!
Or use a color laser with the knowledge that what you're printing is potentially viewable to others. Everything at Kinko's has been for a while now (not at all private).
Why do I think the ACLU might have something to say about this?
In my experience, ALL politicians use governmental agencies to invade the lives of those they perceive as not being in their pocket or predictable.
They do seem to be increasing instances of rewarding those who are most harmful and harassing those who are most vulnerable, and all across the board. I think we have a bad Congress, all told.