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Printer Privacy Government Your Rights Online

FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government 355

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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  • What's the problem? (Score:5, Informative)

    by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:14AM (#39084821) Homepage Journal

    Firstly, what's the big deal with the document having these microdots? They identify the machine by serial number, and the time (assuming the machine's clock is set correctly - in my experience, many aren't). The "location" isn't really identified since these devices have no way of knowing their location, so what's being described here isn't actually possible.

    If you're going to be printing stuff you don't want identified, don't use one of these machines, sure. But for day to day normal printing, it's not exactly going to affect you.

    I'm aware this argument sounds a lot like "if you've got nothing to hide, you don't need security" or whatever, but really it's not. If you DO want to hide that the job was printed on your device, change the serial number (on most devices, this just requires knowing how to get to the "Service Mode" of the machine - which, while no company will tell you how, is trivially easy to find on Google).

    It's not like we actively keep it a secret that our machines do this.

    And just as a minor nitpick: "Konica" and "Minolta" haven't been two separate companies in a long time. (Full disclosure: I work for Konica Minolta)

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:15AM (#39084827) Homepage

    Great to know my printer maker isn't on the list.

  • by chichilalescu ( 1647065 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:46AM (#39084967) Homepage Journal

    you know, my aunt had a typing machine. in Romania, before the fall of communism. and everybody remembers that, in those days, you had to give the "fingerprint" of any typing machine to the authorities.
    as you might know, there are these tiny problems with each letter, and they can be traced back to the machine. so, in practice, the authorities could find out if a paper had been typed by your machine or not.
    in my experience, if you want a warranty for your printer, the store will need the serial number of your device. and if you pay with a credit card, they can link your contact information to the device. and if you try to google the way to change the serial number, you probably end up an watchlist of some sort.
    personally, I don't know if it's a good situation when it's impossible to be anonymous. but I am certain they should tell you about it when it does happen.
    your argument is that it doesn't affect normal users, and that you don't actively keep it a secret. well, you do keep it a secret, because a FOIA request had to be made to find it out. and it doesn't matter if it affects normal users or not, as long as they don't know.

  • by Mabhatter ( 126906 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @09:47AM (#39084969)

    This was published years ago. Probably on Slasdot. Add to that the "yellow circles" patterns that are in various currencies (like the pattern of "20s" on a $20 bill) and they have been working with copier/scanner/software makers to flag those items as non-copy able as well. ... This was years ago...

    This has been a problem for years... I remember 15 years ah at my first real job, somebody was caught putting copied $1 bills into the vending machines. They had to do something eventually.

    If you need to print objectionable content, be sure to destroy or hide the printers you used kids!

  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:01AM (#39085039)

    They could do that anyway, every laser and inkjet printer has a unique signature in the way it prints, with the spacing of dots, dirt and unintended marks left on the paper - it's an inherent part of the character of each printer, but needs skill and time to interpret.

    I recall watching a UK police documentary about fraud over a decade ago, where they IDed the exact printer some fraudulent documents were printed on, proving their suspect was linked to the case. The evidence stood up in court too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:07AM (#39085075)

    Idiot. Sorry, but that is the only appropriate response.
    Nobody really cares about counterfeiters.
    What you are actually saying is that counterfeiters and others with a criminal intent will not be affected whereas everyone will no longer be anonymous when they print something.
    Don't you think it is a bit worrying that registering your printer with the manufacturer means that manufacturer can know whether something was printed by you? That a handlful of printer manufacturers together can probably identify the exact person who printed it for maybe 10% or so of everything printed?

  • by kccricket ( 217833 ) <kccricket AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:09AM (#39085089) Homepage

    I've worked rather extensively with a Xerox DocuColor 252 over the last four years. Those yellow dots are anything but microscopic. I could plainly see the dots on most printouts under standard office-style fluorescent lighting. They always bugged the crap out of me.

  • Re:um... (Score:5, Informative)

    by zill ( 1690130 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:16AM (#39085123)
    Here's a partial list:

    TVS Electronics

    Someone already made the bad printing quality joke so I won't bore you with it again.
  • by gaspyy ( 514539 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @10:49AM (#39085331)

    Yes, parent is correct. We were required by law to register any typewriter with the police. Failure to comply was a major offense, with prison time and if you were flagged as threat to the system you could end up in a forced labor camp (e.g. the infamous "Danube-Black Sea Canal"). Nasty memories and it's incredible how people don't learn from history.

  • by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:27AM (#39085545) [] has some magnified images. At 10x zoom I would guess the diameter is about 1mm, so maybe 0.1mm for the original dots...
  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <> on Saturday February 18, 2012 @11:30AM (#39085579) Homepage Journal

    Mr Konica Minolta employee, is the article submitter being quite a dick when they say "less than a millimeter each"? A millimeter is not particularly small; while I'm sure the dots are less than a mm, it's about as good as saying they're smaller than the size of the page.

    Both links have been slashdotted, so I'm genuinely curious how small the dots are; surely not larger than 0.1 mm.

    Others have already answered, but you asked me, so I'll give the best answer I can. Yes, the others are correct that it's WAY smaller than a millimeter, since that'd be pretty pointless if they were that large. The exact size depends on the device in question due to the way that this is embedded at a "lower layer" than simply manipulating the image data coming in (it's done at the actual physical print layer), but it can be up to around a half a millimeter on really cruddy devices or as small as 0.05mm on really good devices. There is no standardised size.

  • by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:19PM (#39085839)

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

    After this [] I am seriously thinking of dropping all my cards. I will, at least, be using them a lot less.

    But to address your comment, that only works if the store records the serial number with the purchase, and not just the model. And assumes you do not buy a used printer.

  • by drussell ( 132373 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:29PM (#39085907)

    Problem 4: Printing these dots consumes my ink.

    Yes, and it uses a LOT of it! Older HP color lasers would print a B&W page without using the color toner cartridges at all, no wasted toner on a B&W page... Many of the newer ones I've seen always use a color pass for B&W, making color toner cartridges run out quite quickly when printing B&W even though it shouldn't even have to pull color toner onto the drum. And yes, the yellow always runs out first (even though it's only used a little bit more than the base "waste toner" that is used on each pass of a cartridge). (I have a couple LaserJet 2840s and this is VERY obvious; we get about 10% of rated color toner cart life due to high B&W use).

    I'm sure HP loves it, it's another way to sell even more quantity of their overpriced inks and toners. This "feature" costs us about $500/year per printer in extra toner use! (About an extra cyan and magenta each year -- yellow about every 9 mo.)

    I can even see the pattern naked-eye, at least on the 96 bright paper we use... It's always been VERY annoying. Otherwise, fairly nice printers, but they eat supplies and I've known exactly why since day 1.

  • by currently_awake ( 1248758 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:38PM (#39085965)
    When you install the printer it phones home and gives them IP and serial. Now they DO know who you are. Now let's say you work for the government but want to protest something they are doing- so you print out posters and secretly staple them to telephone poles. And lose your job.
  • by KingAlanI ( 1270538 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:41PM (#39085977) Homepage Journal

    There's a US law that forbids melting down pennies and nickels, or exporting them in large quantities.
    (The penny was changed to copper-plated zinc in mid-1982; 95% copper pennies from before then are also worth above their face value in metal.)

    USC Title 31 Section 5111 subsection D ( gives the Secretary of the Treasury the option, [] is about that option being used.

    Many silver coins are just worth their metal value, and those are often melted down.

  • Re:lol (Score:2, Informative)

    by ArsenneLupin ( 766289 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @12:50PM (#39086019)

    It's not entirely worthless - it makes good kindling, and bad toilet paper. (or very bad kindling if you use it as toilet paper first)

    You have to let it dry first, obviously.

    Case in point: many rural populations use dried animal dung as fuel []

  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @01:05PM (#39086097) Homepage Journal

    .. it was the right house []

    not saying there weren't multiple fuckups on the parts of law enforcement,
      (there most assuredly were from what I read)
        but there is a small sliver of 'reap what ya sow' in all that went on there, father included.......

  • Re:lol (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Saturday February 18, 2012 @03:12PM (#39086925)

    That "dirt cheap" food is much shittier than it was 20+ years ago. On top of that, portion sizes have shrunk: take a look at various canned foods, and compare them with cans from 20 years ago; the volumes have shrunk slightly to offset the inflation.

    Clothing is only cheaper because they've moved all the production to southeast Asia, and of course tech products are cheaper for two reasons: 1) they're all made in China now, and 2) newer technological processes are cheaper and more efficient than the old ones. Also 3) volumes are likely higher for many tech items, and greater volumes means greater economies of scale; not as many people had PCs or laptop 20 years ago.

    With furniture, you have to be careful because there's a lot of shitty cardboard furniture out there (no shit, it's just paper fibers pressed together with a fake wood-grain laminate glued on top); for a valid comparison, you need to look at the prices of solid wood high-quality furniture (something like Thomasville), from both then and now. Even that's a little suspect because on a lot of the factory furniture, they're using more veneers on even the hardwood furniture: instead of solid cherry, they make it out of a cheap hardwood like birch and use cherry veneers. Still far better than cardboard shit, but it's not the same as non-veneered furniture as veneers can come off, plus if you ever want to refinish the piece, there's only so much you can do with a veneer, whereas with solid wood you can sand through even deep scratches and refinish without damaging it.

    Bottom line: be very careful in how you make comparisons in the prices of items.