Imagine that every time you printed a document, it automatically included a secret
code that could be used to identify the printer -- and potentially, the person
who used it. Sounds like something from an episode of "Alias," right?
Unfortunately, the scenario isn’t
fictional. In an effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has
succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each
page with identifying information. That means that without your knowledge or
consent, an act you assume is private could become public. A communication tool
you’re using in everyday life could become a tool for government surveillance.
And what’s worse, there are no laws to prevent abuse.
The ACLU recently issued a report
revealing that the FBI has amassed more than 1,100 pages of documents on the
organization since 2001, as well as documents concerning other non-violent groups,
including Greenpeace and United for Peace and Justice. In the current political
climate, it’s not hard to imagine the government using the ability to
determine who may have printed what document for purposes other than identifying
counterfeiters. Your freedom to speak anonymously is in danger.
Yet there are no laws to stop the Secret Service -- or for that matter, any
other governmental agency or private company -- from using printer codes to
secretly trace the origin of non-currency documents. We’re unaware of
no law regulates what people can do with the information once it’s turned
over. And that doesn’t even reach the issue of how such a privacy-invasive
tool could be developed and implemented in printers without the public becoming
aware of it in the first place.
With nothing on the books, we lack tools to stop the privacy and anonymity
violations this technology enables. For this reason, EFF is gathering information
about what printers are revealing and how -- a necessary precursor to any legal
challenge or new legislation to protect your privacy. And we could use your
In this preliminary research
paper, we explain what we’ve observed so far, briefly explore the
privacy implications, and ask
you to print and send us test sheets from your color laser printer and/or
a color laser printer at your local print shop. That way, we can watch the watchers
and ensure that your privacy isn’t compromised in ways that harm your
fundamental constitutional rights.
In addition to documenting what printers are revealing, EFF is filing a Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) request, and we will keep you updated on what we discover.
In the meantime, we urge you to participate in this research project and pass
the word along. Thank you for your support!
for printing test sheets.
ACLU report: FBI
Is Keeping Documents on ACLU and Other Peaceful Groups