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.
I'm sure the SS will be all over that recipe for cream of mushroom soup I printed yesterday. Needless to say, I'm not worried.
Seems to me that you could avoid registering the warranty and remain anonymous.
I bet you also think the government doesn't do anything illegal .... show me your papers comrade.
Between the various Supreme Court rulings which effectively eliminate private property, the Sarbanes-Oxley idiocy, and trial lawyer jackpot hunting, there is no way of knowing what a future black robed thug will decide is illegal.
It appears 1984 was not a warning, it was a training manual.
Please don't confuse the desire for privacy with attempts to conceal criminal behavior. Do you seal your letters? Would you object to cameras and microphones being installed in your house and car? If yes, do you have anything to hide?
Those printing money, drivers license, social security cards, false IDs etc. should worry a lot.....
And we can see how many times the government uses those dots to prosecute those crimes from all the newspaper reports of those people being busted. Right?
That stupid comment should be banned from FR.
...and don't use your gps enabled cellphone, nor your new gps equipped car, with dialup capabilities, and OnStar type stuff. Oh, yeah, the black boxes are to track crashes...
"If you are not doing anything illegal, this should not bother you."
by that logic, it's perfectly ok for police to enter your property and perform a search at any time without a warrant..after all, if you're not doing anything illegal, this shouldn't bother you.
I guess that like guns, it would be smart to buy them privately, with cash. As of yet, it is not illegal to buy printers without government knowledge. When Hillary makes it illegal, then we'll know for sure which way we are headed.
The battle-cry of the Hardened Statist.
I am doing nothing illegal, and I am bothered by this quite thoroughly. My only shock is that there are those who are not.
When thinking about government power, assume Hillary Clinton is president with
Jame Carville Craig Livingstone running the FBI, and Bill Clinton as Atty General.
And Jello will leave a radioactive trail wherever you took a dump!
This is hogwash and useless as a law-enforcement tool. Just dispose of your printer after use and nothing can be proven.