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Traceable Documents
Written by Gizmo   
Tuesday, 18 October 2005 10:50

Printed anything on a laser printer lately?  Had anything produced by a print service that might have come from a laser printer?  If so, and the information you printed was of a, shall we say, politically unflattering nature to those in power, you could end up getting a visit from people in dark suits with no sense of humor.

According to this article at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Xerox Docucolor series laser printers add encoded tracking information in the form of hard-to-see yellow dots to every document that is printed.  The date and time the document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer, are encoded into a special dot pattern that is repeated across the page, and is very difficult to detect with the unaided eye.  What's more, the EFF indicates that Xerox is not the only laser printer manufacturer to do this; it seems the U.S. Secret Service has struck deals with a number of printer manufacturers to do this same thing in other printers.

If you happen to have access to one of the Docucolor printers, you can verify the codes for yourself.  The EFF has thoughtfully provided a detailed description of the encoding process and a decoder.

They are also looking for examples of output from other color printers to see if they contain embedded codes or not.  According to this Nov. 22, 2004 article in PCWorld, it is quite likely that it does.

So, what do you think?  Is this really all that big a deal?  Do we need to be worried about the thought police breaking down our doors?  Is it going to get to the point that you can't print an unpopular opinion without worrying that the equipment you use can be traced back to you?  Tell us what you think, in the forums!


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