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Government Dots Printer Pages With Secret Yellow Dots

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Pages coming out of your printer may contain hidden color dot codes that can allow US government to track you down. It sounds unreal but it is true.

The issue was first touched upon by the PC World magazine in an article, Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents, published in November 2004. The article reported that the “printouts from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page, viewable only with a special kind of flashlight”. The article quoted a senior researcher at Xerox Corporation as saying that the dots contained a “secret digital license tag to help law enforcement officials.”

“Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of Xerox printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed.” (Washington Post )

EFF has posted information on its website on how to decode the printer codes here.

The Washington Post also reports, “The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from nearly every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard, though its team has so far cracked the codes for only one type of Xerox printer”.

A spokesman for Xerox said that the program was done at the behest of Government agencies and was in “cooperation with government agencies, competing manufacturers and a onsortium of banks”.

This is a brazen violation of trust that deserves a strong response. You may be for privacy or not care about the topic – the issue at hand is not violation of privacy but violation of trust. Before the Government goes ahead and starts putting secret color dots on the paper that I print and pay for, it needs to discuss the issue with me and every citizen of this country.

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  • Thanks for the heads up, gaurav! Holy moly, I guess I have to file this under the “nothing surprises me” header.

    I agree with you that this is one of those machavellian works of or secret government that was not meant to come to light.

    To institute this whole program in order to, what? Track down a kidnapper? Anyone who writes a letter to the CIA via snail mail? Any new anthrax letters?

    Could someone please tell me a valid reason for this program?

  • Nancy

    Yah … this is too Orwellian, and the argument that they’re doing it to enable enforcement agencies to track bank note forgers is extremely lame. Someone either wasn’t thinking or had their ethics turned off when they suggested/approved that one.

  • RJ

    I once tried, simply for shits and giggles, to copy the front of a 100 dollar bill with a color copier. Turned out pretty darn nice, I gotta say.

    I then tried to copy the back on a 100 dollar bill onto the back side on the same page, lining it up just right so that the back of the bill would print exactly under the front of the bill.

    Again, it turned out rather nicely.

    The only thing, really, that gave it away as an obvious forgery was the type of paper used. But I’m sure people who are actually serious about conterfeiting money can get their hands on the proper quality of paper to do the deed.

    So, if someone was so inclined, they could presumably conterfeit hundreds or thousands of 100 dollar bills via this simple method.

    And one way to catch these hypothetical bastards is via invisible yellow markings that could provide valuable information to the Secret Service, which happens to be the department of the federal government that deals with investigating the conterfeiting of legal tender.

    So, while there are certainly legitimate privacy/trust concerns raised by all this, it’s not as if there are no good, realistic reasons for implementing it in the first place.

  • RJ, you seem to be suggesting that all civilian activity should be monitored at all times in case any crime is ever committed.

    I know this kind of “Minority Report” pre-emptive action is all the rage in the USA these days, at least in the current Government, but I think it is too provocative and too dangerous for this kind of aggressive police action to be entertained.

  • rj, you have something in common (sort of) with the artist j.s.g boggs, who made ‘money’ as art.

  • Is this for real?