Your printer really is spying on you

It sounds too bizarre and unlikely to be real, but here's a case when your paranoia is justified. If you own a Xerox DocuColor -- and many other kinds of color printers -- then every document you print is uniquely tagged to trace right back to your desk.

As reported on AlterNet last month, and elsewhere for the past year, Xerox, the Secret Service, and other printer manufacturers have confirmed that their machines are built to include a coded pattern of yellow dots, invisible to the naked eye, that indicate the date, time and printer's serial number for any color laser printout.

Today, EFF announced it had broken the code for the printers, allowing you to check the information from your Xerox printer.

With scanning and printing technology increasingly able to make realistic imitations of everything from cash to diplomas, these secret codes are intended to make it easier to bust counterfeiting rings, but there are so many more uses for the coding.

As Annalee Newitz, who also works for the EFF in addition to her syndicated column wrote last month:

Even if you pay cash for color printouts at Kinko's, your purchase or visit to the store will probably be recorded by a security camera. It appears that the dots may contain a time stamp, so it would be relatively easy to cross-reference video of a 5:15 p.m. purchase with some copies made at 5:12.
As EFF attorney Lee Tien says in the press release: "This technology makes it easier for governments to find dissenters. 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?"

The full scoop on the EFF's printer programs is available on their website.

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