*NEWS*PRIVACY WORRIES?DON’T PRINT COLOR !

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*NEWS*PRIVACY WORRIES?DON’T PRINT COLOR !

 user 2005-11-08 at 11:39:00 am Views: 55
  • #14539

    Privacy worries? Don’t print in color
    You’ve
    got to love black-and-white laser printers. You can get a good one for
    $150 or so, and each toner cartridge cranks out thousands of pages
    before you need a refill. Best of all, they don’t spy on you.
    You
    can’t say the same about color laser printers, as we learned last week.
    Actually, we should have learned it nearly a year ago. That’s when PC
    World magazine reported that makers of color laser printers, in
    cooperation with law enforcement agencies, have programmed their
    machines to print tiny yellow dots on every printed document. These
    dots are almost invisible under normal conditions, but can be spotted
    by anyone with a magnifier and the right sort of lighting.
    Most of
    us ignored the news, but not the civil libertarians at the Electronic
    Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. The group asked its members to
    mail in documents generated by dozens of color laser printers. They got
    hundreds of submissions run off on printers made by a variety of
    manufacturers — Minolta, Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox, among
    others.
    Last week, the foundation announced it had cracked the code
    on a document generated by a Xerox printer. By reading the yellow dots,
    staff members were able to identify the serial number of the very
    machine that had produced the printout.
    No big deal, unless you’re a
    counterfeiter. ”Ten years ago, 1 percent of counterfeit currency was
    produced by copiers and printers; now it’s 56 percent,” said Eric
    Zahren, spokesman for the US Secret Service, the government agency that
    battles the funny-money trade. So the Secret Service and other security
    agencies persuaded printer makers to embed subtle markers into their
    machines. And not just printers, said Edward Delp, a professor of
    electrical engineering at Purdue University. ”Color copiers have done
    this for a long time,” said Delp.
    As a result, police can play
    spot-the-dots with pieces of phony currency, then use sales records to
    trace the machine and its owner.
    Of course, the same technique can
    be used to identify anything else from the printer. But Zahren says
    privacy-conscious citizens have nothing to fear. ”You only have to
    worry about it identifying you if you have partaken in illegal
    activity,” he said.
    Famous last words? Maybe not. Why would cops
    bother to inspect the billions of pages printed every day, just to
    figure out which printer produced them? It might be worthwhile to study
    anonymous ransom notes or death threats. But usually it’s obvious where
    a document came from; the cops needn’t bother looking for subtle yellow
    dots.
    Then again, few of us live in countries with a low regard for
    human rights. Pity the poor Cuban worshiper at a secret church who
    cranks out a few religious tracts on the office laser printer. Let one
    of those tracts fall into an informant’s hands, and the cops will know
    exactly where to find him.
    ”These printers are being sold all over
    the world,” said Seth Schoen, staff technologist for the Electronic
    Frontier Foundation. No doubt the dictators will use the codes for
    their intended purpose, but only a fool would expect it to stop there.
    Schoen admitted the dots pose little threat to the privacy of
    Americans. But, he added, ”If I were in China, for example, it might
    be a real problem.”
    It’s enough to make you wonder how many more of
    our gadgets are keeping an eye on us. Cellphones come to mind. A
    federal regulation, issued for our own good, requires cell phone
    systems to add features that can locate a phone to within a few yards.
    That way, when you dial 911 from a burning building, the firefighters
    can find you before the flames do.
    But the same technology can also
    let the police track your every move. The locator software can be
    activated without any warning, converting any cheap cellphone into a
    homing beacon. Just the thing for keeping somebody under constant
    surveillance.
    You’d hope the police would need a warrant for this
    kind of snooping. Warrants require the cops to show a judge some
    evidence the target of the surveillance has committed a crime. But the
    US Justice Department has instead relied on subpoenas. A judge will
    issue one of these if the police merely claim that it might produce
    information that will help crack a case. Federal courts have routinely
    granted such subpoenas.
    But in August, a federal magistrate, James
    Orenstein, ruled that the collection of electronic location data from a
    cellphone is little different from a wiretap. For that, you need a
    full-fledged wiretap warrant, he said. The Justice Department has
    scoffed at Orenstein’s argument and is appealing, with good reason. The
    federal courts approved just 730 wiretap warrants last year, with state
    governments permitting another 1,000 or so. So if Orenstein prevails, a
    cop will need a lot more than a hunch before spying on our cellphones.
    Still,
    it’s worth at least a little worry. In her new book ”Spychips,”
    privacy activist Katherine Albrecht warns of efforts to embed digital
    trackers into every item we buy. Perhaps we should worry more about all
    the tracking devices we already own — the cellphones with locator
    chips, the unique digital codes broadcast by every wireless Internet
    router, and of course the paper scrolling out of your color laser
    printer, with your signature on every page, like it or not.