"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Friday, October 21, 2005

Is your printer ratting on you?

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, a computer magazine article pointed out that printouts from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page, viewable only with a special kind of light. The article quoted a senior researcher at Xerox Corp. as saying the dots contain a digital "ID tag" for use by law-enforcement authorities to track 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. But now, the secret is out.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, recently revealed that it had cracked the code from a widely used line of Xerox printers. The code revealed the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed. With the Xerox printers, the information appears as a pattern of yellow dots, each only a millimeter wide and visible only with a magnifying glass and a blue light.

The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from nearly every major printer manufacturer. The U.S. Secret Service acknowledged yesterday that the markings, which are not visible to the human eye, are there, but it played down the use for invading privacy. "It's strictly a countermeasure to prevent illegal activity specific to counterfeiting," said an agency spokesman.

Xerox's Bill McKee also confirmed the existence of the hidden codes, but he said the company was simply assisting government agencies, competing manufacturers and a "consortium of banks". McKee declined to provide further details.

Source: Mike Musgrove, The Washington Post. Read full article here.


  • At 10/21/2005 04:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Didn't the Wichita (Kansas) Police Department use some variant of this technique to crack the BTK case a couple of months back? I have a vague memory that the cops traced one of his letters to a computer printer at the church he attended, but I don't remember hearing about how they did it. BTK pleaded guilty, so the information never came out in court.

    Happy motoring

  • At 10/23/2005 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Janelle said…

    It's really creepying hearing about the way the governement is keeping tabs on people, and this is just the stuff we hear about. Who knows, there may be something linked with our microwaves and coffee makers printed in the paper next month.

  • At 10/23/2005 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Janelle said…

    Oh, and hello...I'm Janelle. I am a friend of Brandi's :)


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