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FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government 355

Posted by timothy
from the stick-with-handwriting dept.
New submitter Dave_Minsky writes "The U.S. Secret Service responded to a FOIA request on Monday that reveals the names of the printer companies that cooperate with the government to identify and track potential counterfeiters. The Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed in 2005 that the U.S. Secret Service was in cahoots with selected laser printer companies to identify and track printer paper using tiny microscopic dots encoded into the paper. The tiny, yellow dots — less than a millimeter each — are printed in a pattern over each page and are only viewable with a blue light, a magnifying glass or a microscope. The pattern of dots is encodes identifiable information including printer model, and time and location where the document was printed." Easy enough to avoid government dots; just don't buy printers from Canon, Brother, Casio, HP, Konica, Minolta, Mita, Ricoh, Sharp, or Xerox.
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FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government

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  • by roman_mir (125474) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:21AM (#39084841) Homepage Journal

    The problem is government cooperation, this automatically raises a flag - this company will not have a problem cooperating with the government.

    So, what do these companies have to hide? What are they getting from government that they agreed to do this?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:22AM (#39084847)

    If you've got nothing to hide, but then suddenly stop being trackable, that implies that now you do now have something to hide.

    Why not guilty until proven innocent, instead? Oh wait, that ended when Reagan instituted drug testing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:27AM (#39084867)

    Problem 1: It was *not* pointed out to the customers that this was happening, it was only revealed by the EFF and then not denied. It would've been ridiculous to deny it.
    Problem 2: Still if I buy such a printer it is neither stated on the packaging nor in the manuel that the printer prints this information. This is not what I would call a transparent process.
    Problem 3: If I send a job to a printer I expect the printer to print my job, not anything else!
    Problem 4: Printing these dots consumes my ink.
    Problem 5: There is no possibility to turn this "feature" off. Why? Who is your customer?

    Next thing you tell us that this is a feature to improve customer satisfaction.

  • by YttriumOxide (837412) <yttriumox@gmai l . com> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:38AM (#39084927) Homepage Journal

    It's trivial to geolocate with IP and most printers are networked these days.

    True, but most aren't given public IP addresses (any many aren't even given access out the firewall to try and figure out the public address)

    Changing the serial doesn't mean the "real" burned in one isn't printed as well.

    Note the bit where I said I work for Konica Minolta... I know what I'm talking about here. The serial number written in the microdots is ABSOLUTELY the one that is programmed in electronically by the service-person and NOT some kind of hard-coded value.

    Seriously, what benefit is there to the consumer for this behaviour? None.

    You'll get no argument from me there. I never said I was in favour of these microdots, just that they're REALLY ineffective and therefore you can generally happily ignore the attempted invasion of privacy and it's no big deal.

    Stop being an apologist for your employer.

    My employer (right up to senior management at our parent company) knows when I agree with them and when I disagree. I'm secure enough in my position there that I know I don't need to kiss arse to keep my job.

  • by dragisha (788) <dragisha&m3w,org> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:42AM (#39084953)

    1) To find child pornographers
    2) To find money counterfeiters ....

    So, every 1,000,000th computer user is 1), and probably every 10,000,000th is 2).. Or something like. Nothing bad, I would propose much stricter sentencing for 1), and let authorities eat 2) for breakfast, and so on... But... 1) and 2) are probably verrry aware of methods used so only guaranteed effect is: surveillance and control of rest of us.

    We (the rest) are just collateral damage - freedom here and freedom there is lost...

    Nothing new here... :)

    As for printer companies - Every single one not on this list is just temporarily off it. Why would they decline request like that from government? At least for printer sold in some country, it's only normal to expect its government to impose such request onto company willing to sell it's wares. While this situation is very similar to old reasoning for cryptography for our emails, I really don't see why it would be a problem to me if papers I produce are traceable by government? A lot of my writing is already in circulation so they also have many other ways to match my papers to me :).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:49AM (#39084981)

    Oh? Did you buy that printer with a credit card? Video surveilence at time of purchase could be useful if not....

    There are plenty of methods of tracking a purchased item to a person. The convincing argument for me is this - The reason given for doing this was to stop counterfits. However printing quality out of those printers is no where near enough to fool idiots down the street. What other reason is there then, other that to track the local people?

  • by Megane (129182) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:51AM (#39084991) Homepage

    As a further note, right now there's no way to trace that serial number to me.

    They can identify that two pages both came from the same printer. Which includes sneaking into your house when you're not around and printing a test page. Or not sneaking in, if they already suspect you enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @08:51AM (#39084995)

    Also: money counterfeiters have no right to exist.

    It' s not all about the counterfeiters. Everything printed on those printers ties the sheets of paper back to that unit.

    This behaviour in itself doesn't prove a person did anything but will add to the weight of evidence against them. Write a manifesto in the woods? Anonymous whistle-blower documents? White power propaganda? Love poems? Birthday cards for your kids?

    It doesn't matter, there is the potential to identify the source of literally billions (trillions?) of pieces of paper all to catch a few bad guys.

    It's a broad net.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:00AM (#39085035)

    Or more exaclty why my printer refuse to print black and white pages because the yellow cartridge is empty.

  • by Requiem18th (742389) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:32AM (#39085217)

    The argument of their actual danger has ben explained to you already but I'll try again. The problems are availability, plausible deniability and finally, "red flaging" (I don't know the proper term, my apologies).

    It's the same argument for total encryption, if you encrypt only sensitive information you are making it very easy for an attacker to know what to look for. If the only encrypted files in your laptop are your credit card numbers and password stores, Again if the only email you encrypt is the most highly sensitive ones, and industrial spy who gains access to your email knows exactly where to look for trade secrets.

    This means that if you ever have a good reason to print something you don't want traced back to you, you'll have to get access to an special printer. Cracking down on religious or political dissidents, whistleblowers and "unconfortable" citizens becomes a matter of tracking down who has access to these special printers. That's the red flag.

    Sooner than later just having such a printer becomes proof of any crime, such as encrypting your harddrive and refusing to hand over the key is considered evidence of the crime by some authorities. If you want to have access to these printers when you need them you need to use them when you don't need them. That's your plausible deniability.

    And if they simply become ilegal, there is no availability.

    Let's drop the topic of revolutions and use a theme closer to home, whisthleblowing. So you are a lowly clerk in an oil company and happend uppon records proving corruption involving high profile politicians. So you take the files in a USB, print them at home and send them anonymously to an activist group.

    If your mail get's intercepted, you are fucked. If your employer's lawyers get them, you are fucked. If the police happens to "lose" them. You are fucked. Because thanks to cooperation between corporations and the state it's easy to trace you. The yellow dots link your copy to your printer, to the store and to your credit card number. And for all we know there is already a database out there that just links yellow dots to names and it only takes a few calls to know who leaked the incriminating data.

    And once they know you may as well move yourself to perpetual-unemployment-ville.

  • Note to self. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub (869860) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <muitnias>> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:52AM (#39085347)

    Never buy a used printer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:25AM (#39085535)

    The problem is government cooperation, this automatically raises a flag - this company will not have a problem cooperating with the government.

    You make it sound like they had a choice.

    "Nice company you got here. Be a shame if we had to audit your records for the past twenty years. You're not on the terrorists' side, are you?"

  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:15AM (#39085823) Homepage

    No, not paranoia... It's the fact that printer ink is the most valuable liquid in the world.

    http://boingboing.net/2009/12/30/graph-compares-price.html [boingboing.net]

    More valuable than blood and definitely more valuable than crude oil, let alone gasoline.

    People ask "what to the printer makers get for their complicity?" More ink and toner sales of course.

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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