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Big brother is watching (what you print)

Discussion in 'Legal' started by atek3, Nov 24, 2004.

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  1. atek3

    atek3 Senior Member

    Mar 5, 2003
    SW CT

    Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents

    Mon Nov 22, 4:00 AM ET

    Technology - PC World

    Jason Tuohey, Medill News Service

    WASHINGTON--Next time you make a printout from your color laser printer, shine an
    LED flashlight beam on it and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. You might be
    able to see the small, scattered yellow dots printer there that could be used to trace the
    document back to you.

    According to experts, several printer companies quietly encode the serial number and
    the manufacturing code of their color laser printers and color copiers on every document
    those machines produce. Governments, including the United States, already use the
    hidden markings to track counterfeiters.

    Peter Crean, a senior research fellow at Xerox, says his company's laser printers,
    copiers and multifunction workstations, such as its WorkCentre Pro series, put the "serial
    number of each machine coded in little yellow dots" in every printout. The millimeter-
    sized dots appear about every inch on a page, nestled within the printed words and

    "It's a trail back to you, like a license plate," Crean says.

    The dots' minuscule size, covering less than one-thousandth of the page, along with
    their color combination of yellow on white, makes them invisible to the naked eye, Crean
    says. One way to determine if your color laser is applying this tracking process is to
    shine a blue LED light--say, from a keychain laser flashlight--on your page and use a

    Crime Fighting vs. Privacy

    Laser-printing technology makes it incredibly easy to counterfeit money and documents,
    and Crean says the dots, in use in some printers for decades, allow law enforcement to
    identify and track down counterfeiters.

    However, they could also be employed to track a document back to any person or
    business that printed it. Although the technology has existed for a long time, printer
    companies have not been required to notify customers of the feature.

    Lorelei Pagano, a counterfeiting specialist with the U.S. Secret Service, stresses that the
    government uses the embedded serial numbers only when alerted to a forgery. "The
    only time any information is gained from these documents is purely in [the case of] a
    criminal act," she says.

    John Morris, a lawyer for The Center for Democracy and Technology, says, "That type of
    assurance doesn't really assure me at all, unless there's some type of statute." He adds,
    "At a bare minimum, there needs to be a notice to consumers."

    If the practice disturbs you, don't bother trying to disable the encoding mechanism--you'll
    probably just break your printer.

    Crean describes the device as a chip located "way in the machine, right near the laser"
    that embeds the dots when the document "is about 20 billionths of a second" from

    "Standard mischief won't get you around it," Crean adds.

    Neither Crean nor Pagano has an estimate of how many laser printers, copiers, and
    multifunction devices track documents, but they say that the practice is commonplace
    among major printer companies.

    "The industry absolutely has been extraordinarily helpful [to law enforcement]," Pagano

    According to Pagano, counterfeiting cases are brought to the Secret Service, which
    checks the documents, determines the brand and serial number of the printer, and
    contacts the company. Some, like Xerox, have a customer database, and they share the
    information with the government.

    Crean says Xerox and the government have a good relationship. "The U.S. government
    had been on board all along--they would actually come out to our labs," Crean says.

    Unlike ink jet printers, laser printers, fax machines, and copiers fire a laser through a
    mirror and series of lenses to embed the document or image on a page. Such devices
    range from a little over $100 to more than $1000, and are designed for both home and

    Crean says Xerox pioneered this technology about 20 years ago, to assuage fears that
    their color copiers could easily be used to counterfeit bills.

    "We developed the first (encoding mechanism) in house because several countries had
    expressed concern about allowing us to sell the printers in their country," Crean says.

    Since then, he says, many other companies have adopted the practice.

    The United States is not the only country teaming with private industry to fight
    counterfeiters. A recent article points to the Dutch government as using similar
    anticounterfeiting methods, and cites Canon as a company with encoding technology.
    Canon USA declined to comment.
  2. jimpeel

    jimpeel Senior Member

    Jan 2, 2003
    Kimball, NE
    Deleted by jimpeel
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2004
  3. Michigander

    Michigander Participating Member

    Feb 9, 2004
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