Sunday, November 02, 2008

Printer Companies Tracking Your Printed Documents

Your color laser printer is quietly encoding all your printed documents with it's own serial and model number so all documents printed on your personal private printer can be tracked back to you. If you registered for warranty protection on that printer when you bought it, the manufacturer can tell that a printer you purchased made printouts of specific web pages or photos or bank statements if they have the physical piece of paper from your printer.

This is very likely to have been requested by Treasury to track photocopied paper money or legal documents which shouldn't be copied (like birth certificates) from being used illegally to obtain fake ID's and track bad guys who use those types of nefarious techniques to do illegal stuff.

As mentioned in the light-hearted EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) video below, printer manufacturers probably did this at the request of the government and have agreed and complied in order to be allowed to make ever better copy machines and printers capable of printing pretty official looking copies of cash or legal documents so the dodo's using them for illegal activity can be caught and punished.

All well and good, but once again - what happens when errors, mistakes and misunderstandings lead to false accusations caused by malfunctioning equipment or incorrect warranty registrations? Maybe just some personal harm or embarrassment come from tracking documents to the wrong owner or a second owner of the printer.

The EFF is attemting to bring this to the attention of the public so we at least know we are being spied on by our own machines. Watch the video below for more.

As I mentioned in a post on this topic nearly four years ago, this seems justifiable, but as also mentioned then:

All that is required is NOTICE to the consumer or citizen in public places that they are being monitored and when that is not done, there appears to be more to the story. The fact that this laser printer technology has been kept quiet for over ten years it has been in use suggest that there is more to this story as well.
It's now almost 15 years this has been going on. EFF wants you to be aware of the practice of monitoring your laser printer documents. The issue has been discussed at Engadget and more recently by Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing, so geeks who follow tech news know about this - but the creepiness factor hasn't faded since the story broke and nothing has changed in the way of public notice from manufacturers.

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