[NetBehaviour] Secret Codes In Printers May Allow Government Tracking

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Fri Oct 28 18:09:07 CEST 2005

*Secret Codes In Printers May Allow Government Tracking*


Spacewar Express

by Rob Lever
Washington (AFP) Oct 25, 2005

Tiny dots produced by some laser printers are a secret code that can allow
the government to track down counterfeiters, a new study concludes, raising
the hackles of privacy advocates.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said its researchers recently broke the
code behind the tiny tracking dots and said the US Secret Service confirmed
that the tracking is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer
manufacturers to identify counterfeiters.

"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 researcher Seth Schoen.

EFF said the yellow dits are less than one millimeter in diameter and can be
seen only with a blue light, magnifying glass or microscope.

Lorie Lewis, a spokeswoman at the Secret Service, declined to confirm the
report directly but acknowledged that the agency "has worked together with
other government agencies and industry on preventive technological
countermeasures designed to discourage the illegal use of printers and
copiers in the production of counterfeit currency."

Lewis said she could not elaborate on these measures but said they were
"specific and limited to the reproduction of currency" and that the action
"in no way tracks or measures the use of a personal computer's hardware or

EFF, a group promoting privacy, free speech and technological innovation,
said the news has troubling implications for privacy even if the aim is to
stop counterfeiting.

EFF spokeswoman Rebecca Jeschke said the same information could be used by
governments to track down dissidents.

"Internationally, there are governments who would be very interested in what
dissidents have to say and in tracking dissidents," she said.

Jeschke added that although the deal appeared to be with the US government,
the fact that it was relatively easy to break the code would mean other
governments could use the same codes for other purposes.

EFF broke a code in a Xerox DocuColor printer and identified other codes in
printers from Canon, Brother, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Epson and other makers.
And they noted that the codes are not limited to printers sold in the United

"We had test pages from Europe, and they do have the same codes on them,"
Jeschke said.

Xerox spokesman Bill McKee said the company would not comment on specific
technology "for security reasons."

"Xerox does not routinely share any information about its customers," he
said. "We, like any manufacturer, assist investigating agencies, when

Beth Givens of the California-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said the
report was troubling,

"It begs the question about what other kinds of secret tracking mechanisms
are out there," she said.

Givens said the system could threaten a basic right to remain anonymous.

"The right to leaflet goes all the way back to the birth of this country,"
she said.

"If you print something on a color printer, you're no longer anonymous."

"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 attorney Lee

"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?"

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