Secret Code in Color Printers Lets Government Track You

Tiny Dots Show Where and When You Made Your Print

A 2004 article in PC World magazine noted that printouts from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page, viewable only with a special kind of flashlight.

The dots contain information useful to law-enforcement authorities, a secret digital "license tag" to track criminals.

The content of the coded information was supposed to be a secret, available only to agencies looking for counterfeiters who use color printers.

Now, the secret is out.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) broke the code behind these hidden dots.

The EFF found that the grid of yellow dots, best seen under blue light, encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the printer serial number.

EFF spent months collecting samples from printers around the world and then handed them off to an intern, who cracked the code in about a week.

The U.S. Secret Service admitted that the tracking information is part of a deal struck with color laser printer manufacturers, ostensibly to identify counterfeiters. It's a countermeasure to prevent illegal activity specific to counterfeiting, the agency stated.

But this is also seem as an issue of consumer rights and privacy. There are no laws to control the use of the information gleaned from the codes. The EFF calls for greater transparency in the workings between the technology industry and the government.

The logical next question is: What other deals have been or are being made to ensure that our technology rats on us?

EFF: Is Your Printer Spying On You?

List of Printers Which Do or Don't Print Tracking Dots

Washington Post:
Sleuths Crack Tracking Code Discovered in Color Printers

CNET News:
Cracking the Xerox tracking code

Mobile Mag:
Secret Service can track what you print