The Electric Commentary

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Big Brother can tell where you print your documents.

This is just creepy:

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it isn't. The pages coming out of your color printer may contain hidden information that could be used to track you down if you ever cross the U.S. government.

Last year, an article in PC World magazine pointed out that printouts from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page, viewable only with a special kind of flashlight. The article quoted a senior researcher at Xerox Corp. as saying the dots contain information useful to law-enforcement authorities, a secret digital "license tag" for tracking down criminals.

The content of the coded information was supposed to be a secret, available only to agencies looking for counterfeiters who use color printers.

Now, the secret is out.

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of Xerox printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed.

Read the whole thing, and the commentary at Marginal Revolution.


  • I saw this this morning and was anazed. Thank God I donate to the EFF. Probably the only lobby group that I agree with more than 90% of the time.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 10:21 AM  

  • First the Patriot act and now this! It is just getting so hard to break the law these days without getting caught. This is so unconstitutional. Surely the founding fathers meant to protect counterfeiters!

    As you can see, I am not as outraged as some others maybe. If the government is like: "hey, color copy companies, can you help us out here," and they say "ok," what is the problem with that?

    I mean, I understand that people are worried about big brother and all of that, but it doesn't seem illegal or illogical.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 6:20 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 8:23 AM  

  • Phil, if it's harmless, why was it a secret?

    Most people like the idea of some anonymity being available. Certain blog commenters, for instance, use this to throw out ideas that may otherwise end up buried in that person's embarrassed subconcious. Take Phil, for example.

    And really, has this ever been used to catch a counterfeiter? If so, why didn't we know about it? The Marg Rev guys are right. If the Soviet Bloc had had this technology, their repression probably would be continuing.

    Secrets, Secrets are no fun...

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 9:47 AM  

  • Well, it was secret because if it wasn't, then counterfeiters could probably like, look for it and disable it. Maybe it has been used to catch counterfeiters, if we didn't hear about it, maybe because they were trying to keep it a secret.

    Did you know the East German Stasi (equivalent of the KGB) used to collect butt scent samples? When people would eat at a restaurant or something, they would put a cloth down on the chair, and then after the person left, they would put the cloth in a sealed jar, so they could give the scent to dogs if need be later on. I guess this is kind of the same thing.

    Still, it really only concerns people who break the law, it would seem to me. People want to be anonymous, sometimes out of principle, and sometimes because they are ordering pornography, but mostly because they have, are planning to, or think they could in the future, break the law.

    I too enjoy anonymity, but I don't think anybody is really entitled to it, at least not in the way this situation plays out.


    By Anonymous Phil, at 12:18 PM  

  • Given the way of legislation these days Phil, I don't think that the fear of breaking the law in the future is as nefarious as you appear to suggest.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 3:44 PM  

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