Your colour laser printer is spying on you

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization that supports privacy and free speech rights, has discovered that there are codes embedded in the printout from most colour laser printers from virtually all major manufacturers.

The codes can include the date and time the printout was made, as well as the serial number of the printer. If you paid for your printer with a cheque or credit card, or mailed in your warranty registration card, the serial number of the printer is personally identifiable information. At the very least, it can identify the store where you purchased the printer.

I have long held an unconfirmed belief that the mere analysis of microscopic but consistent errors in dot placement by any printer, laser or inkjet, can uniquely identify a printer - much like striations on a bullet can uniquely identify the gun that was used to fire it. But the original "fingerprint" would still be necessary for comparison. This new revelation about colour laser printers is the first time I have heard of deliberately providing trackable information in a printout.

These codes are generally bar-codes printed in yellow toner, measure less than a millimeter in size, and can be viewed under blue light using a magnifying glass.

If you are a political dissident who writes the occasional anonymous letter to a government agency, or simply do not like the idea of embedding a watermark containing your personal information on every printout, you might consider avoiding the use of a colour laser printer. Otherwise, you may find yourself languishing in a rat-infested jail, suspected of a crime but held without charge, cut off from your family, and... well, officially de-existed.


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