Your printer is telling on you


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the most active and powerful organization aiming to protect civil liberties in the digital world, has just announced that it has cracked the secret codes printed by the Xerox DocuColor color laser printer, as a first step to bring color printer secret codes into the open. The U.S. Secret Service has made agreements with Xerox, Canon, Brother, Dell, Epson, HP and other printer manufacturers so that their color laser printers print almost-invisible codes on every page they produce, marking the date, time, and serial number of the printer. This is ostensibly to track down printers used to produce counterfeit money, however the information could be used by government in any way. Now the code has been cracked, it is a far broader privacy issue, as now anyone can discover by which printer a document was produced. However this had to be understood as a possibility when the initiative was created. What can be created and used (or abused) by government can equally be abused by others, and the only resort is to make it completely open. As the EFF note, if we find the US government is making behind-the-scenes deals with private corporations to compromise our privacy through our printers, who’s to know what other of our personal technology is being compromised in this way? The potential for abuse comes not just from government, but from anyone else that has access to or uncovers this information. That’s one of the reasons why I have problems with the “people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t be worried” argument about privacy loss.

1 reply
  1. Irfan
    Irfan says:

    Hi Ross,
    I just saw a news story (Nov 7th) today on the same subject on CNN, I have a question they indicated that this secret printing of codes was also done on printers designed for the home use, I was wondering if thought this is something CNN got wrong…

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