The Evil One
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|Posted: Thu Oct 20, 2005 11:10 am Post subject: Secret code tracks printers
|Secret code tracks printers
By BOB KEEFE
Cox News Service Thursday, October 20, 2005
Watch what you print: The government could use it to track you down if you commit a crime.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, says it has cracked the code behind tiny tracking dots that many color laser printers secretly hide in every document as part of an agreement between printer makers and the U.S. Secret Service.
The yellow dots are invisible to the naked eye. But viewed under blue light with a magnifying glass, they can be used to identify the date and time a document is printed and the serial number of the printer, according to EFF researcher Seth David Schoen.
Secret Service officials say the coding is used only to pursue counterfeiters, and that the government doesn't have much interest otherwise in what people print at their homes and offices.
But EFF attorney Lee Tien said that overlooks serious some privacy concerns.
"The problem is that tracking counterfeiters also means putting in technology that allows you to track every document," he said.
"The second, bigger problem is that what we're talking about is stealthy, very out-of-the-public-sight deals that are being made between the government and private sector," he said.
If the government and industry make a secret deal over printer technology, Tien questioned, could there be more agreements unbeknownst to the public to track Americans using other commonplace technology?
According to EFF, a wide range of color laser jet printers - which are falling in price and beginning to find a market among individual consumers - contain the technology. They include some of the most popular models made by Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox Corp.
A Dell spokesman said officials who could comment on the EFF report were traveling and unavailable Wednesday.
HP issued a statement saying it supported agreements with law enforcement that reduced counterfeiting.
"As a responsible market leader, HP supports the voluntary cooperation between industry and the central banks of many nations to reduce the risk of counterfeiting activities," the world's No. 1 printer seller said. HP said it was one of many printer companies working with a group of 27 countries to develop and implement printer technology that will prevent counterfeiting.
The existence of the printer technology has been known for years. But according to EFF, it is the first to crack the code behind it.
"We've seen 10-year-old printers with this tracking code in it," Tien said.