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Is Your Printer Spying On You?

Printers Is Your Printer Spying On You?

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 a purported 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.

Yet there are no laws to stop the Secret Service from using printer codes to secretly trace the origin of non-currency documents; only the privacy policy of your printer manufacturer currently protects you (if indeed such a policy exists). And no law regulates what sort of documents the Secret Service or any other domestic or foreign government agency is permitted to request for identification, not to mention how such a forensics tool could be developed and implemented in printers in the first place.

With no laws on the books, there's nothing to stop the privacy 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 help.

In the preliminary research paper linked below, 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 consitutional rights.

In addition to documenting what printers are revealing, EFF has filed 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 and pass the word along about this research project. Thank you for your support!


2 Comments in Response to

Comment by Freed Radical
Entered on:


Great story to post, Ernie. All of the activists on this site need to be very aware that any photo image they create and disseminate includes the make and serial number of their camera, any CD or DVD they burn contains the serial number of their computer or burner, and every color print they make has a code for the serial number of their printer. My advice is that we start treating all these digital devices just like we do guns--Buy from private parties on Craig's List (not E-Bay), meet in person and pay cash; or just pay cash at a Best Buy not too close to your house and don't register for the warranty. And I'll be looking into a classic 1960s pickup truck as well. There are many nice ones out there for little money. Just my $.02 for the cause of freedom. Eric New
Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

You can add this video to the other surveillance being done by our government, i.e., listening to your phone calls, monitoring you on line, harvesting your information.that I told you about in obama's secret plan and people do not realize by virtue of what you own already they can enter your home without a Search Warrant! The video is from Liberty Penn

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