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FOIA Request Shows Which Printer Companies Cooperated With US Government

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the stick-with-handwriting dept.

Printer 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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lol (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084813)

Who would want to counterfeit american money? If you're gonna stick your neck out at least counterfeit something of value

Re:lol (-1, Flamebait)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084861)

there's no such thing as real american money. it can be graded by quality of craftmanship but all of it is inherently counterfeit and worthless.

Re:lol (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085037)

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)

Re:lol (-1, Offtopic)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085263)

(or very bad kindling if you use it as toilet paper first)

Why is that? Wouldn't dried faecal matter make it even better as kindling? Some peoples already use bovine or camel shit as fuel so it doesn't seem that far a stretch to assume that human waste wouldn't burn too.

Or... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084817)

start printing dot's yourself

What's the problem? (5, Informative)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084821)

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)

Re:What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084841)

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?

Re:What's the problem? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084905)

Why not guilty until proven innocent, instead?

Indeed, it's unfair to try an innocent man! - Apologies to Q from Star Trek.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Interesting)

bWareiWare.co.uk (660144) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084853)

The are LOTS of flaws in your agument. Prehaps the easiest to explain is what happens if the is a revolution in your country and previous 'free-expression' suddenly lands you in jail?

 

Re:What's the problem? (3, Interesting)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084887)

The are LOTS of flaws in your agument. Prehaps the easiest to explain is what happens if the is a revolution in your country and previous 'free-expression' suddenly lands you in jail?

Let's imagine I have a home printer that prints these microdots. I use it for printing birthday cards, kids' homework, letters to my bank, and other miscellany. If there's a revolution and any of these things become illegal, I've got bigger problems than being tracked by my printer.

As a further note, right now there's no way to trace that serial number to me. Generally speaking, tracing a serial number will get it to the store that sold it to me and not much further. For larger office devices (the stuff I work with in my day job) there's no way a home user would have it, but we could track it to the end user (customer) in theory. That however would only give us the company, not the individual user (unless that company themselves had a tracking system for their users, and then how is that OUR fault?)

Yeh, I'd prefer it if these microdots didn't exist, but I've yet to see a convincing argument of their actual danger.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:What's the problem? (5, Insightful)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084991)

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.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Informative)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085119)

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.

I really really really would like to see someone try that and get out in one piece here not a hope in hell that would be real fun to watch An Englishman's home is his castle and i Enforce that to the Hilt and i do mean very seriously Enforce it

Re:What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

Requiem18th (742389) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Interesting)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085463)

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.

If there was, the following conversation would not have taken place:

  • My phone rings...
  • Me: Hello, Yttrium Oxide* speaking (not my real name)
  • Person: Hi, this is Joe Bloggs* from Government Security Agency* (not real name or agency)
  • Person: Are you the person to talk to about determining who a device was sent to by its microdot pattern?
  • Me: Hmmm, sorry, not my area. You seem to have been transferred to the wrong department. I'll transfer you to the right person.

That's only happened once, around 6 or 7 years ago. Same current employer, different country. It may be that such a database exists in the US for example, but I've never worked there so couldn't say. It definitely doesn't exist in Australia where I used to work otherwise they wouldn't have called asking that question.

Re:What's the problem? (5, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085521)

Me: Hello, Yttrium Oxide* speaking (not my real name)

So you're not related to the Connecticut Oxides? When I was in college, I dated Strontium. I've had a nasty rash ever since.

Re:What's the problem? (2)

Dysproxia (584031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085369)

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

Unless you count the printer driver, driver installer or the network connected printer itself calling home for warranty related reasons, reporting at the very least the serial number and your IP address, and whatever other personal information you probably gave it willingly.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084897)

If such a revolution were to happen, I highly doubt the perpetrators are going to wait to build a body of evidence against you before they stick you in the deepest dungeon they can find.

It didn't take much for the "victors" in the Libyan conflict to start emptying towns of opposition tribes members after all... just some UN air and logistics support.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (3, Informative)

Mabhatter (126906) | more than 2 years ago | (#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!

Re:What's the problem? (2)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085309)

There's a significant difference, I think, between taking measures to prevent an act of crime as it occurs and taking actions that also affect legitimate uses.

The fear (perhaps unjustified) is that in theory these dots could identify a person printing things that are not illegal in of themselves but are still inconvenient/undesirable to the authorities.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085395)

i think one of the major issues is that they can tell two separate pages came from the same printer. it isn't necessarily important that they ever have to actually find the particular printer if they find other, possibly non-objectionable content, on your person from that same printer.

Re:What's the problem? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084881)

Seconded, even though I don't work for a company that makes printers (or any company for that matter).
Great summary BTW. Who sent this request? (A Google search reveals the EFF did it.)
If you're really going to boycott some printer company that adds some trivially (so trivial in fact that a six-year-old could do it) circumventable method to identify the "time" some printer identified by its "serial number" printed something, I can only call you a stupid privacy ichiban sheep. If the printer companies actually really wanted to help the government pull this off, it wouldn't be so trivial to circumvent.
I wish there was a more democratic EFF. I've donated several times, but if they keep pulling off stuff like this, I can't see myself donating again.
Also: money counterfeiters have no right to exist.

Re:What's the problem? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (2)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085209)

Nobody said the microdots could only be used to stop counterfeiters. If that were true, this would be a non-issue. Modern digital copiers already have internal image-recognition software that refuses to copy something that resembles currency -- printers could too, and maybe already do, for all I know.

The problem is that the dots appear on more than just images that resemble currency. They appear on all printed documents, including those describing political opinions that may differ with those currently in power (whenever and whoever they may be), descriptions of your wife and daughter's medical conditions, your personal investments, etc. Leaving one's name off of one's document no longer makes it anonymous -- intentionally or otherwise -- to someone who knows the secret.

If you don't care about the microdots, I suggest that you don't print many of your political views. Saying unkind things about the EFF, for example, is trivial and even chic today, but neither of us knows how those views may be considered in the future. And don't do any favors for your friends -- anything you print for them would be traced back to you, not them.

I note in passing that the microdots are substantially invisible to the unaided eye, and I am willing to bet that not one member of the public in a hundred -- possibly a thousand -- knows they are there. The EFF is publicizing their presence, so that all citizens will know. How is this undemocratic?

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085413)

Also: money counterfeiters have no right to exist.

Are we talking about the Federal Reserve? Or Mossad?

Re:What's the problem? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084889)

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.

Right, because nobody sends in those "Product Registration Cards" or does online registration when installing the print drivers.

Re:What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085021)

Right, because people who print counterfeit notes register their printers. Hmm, great logic you have there.
I have nothing to hide yet I have never, ever, sent or lodged online one of those.

Re:What's the problem? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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?

Re:What's the problem? (2)

grub (11606) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084891)

It's trivial to geolocate with IP and most printers are networked these days. Changing the serial doesn't mean the "real" burned in one isn't printed as well.

Seriously, what benefit is there to the consumer for this behaviour? None. Stop being an apologist for your employer.

Re:What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084927)

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.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

grub (11606) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085019)

OK, so you don't agree with them. That's good, you seemed to be coming across as a sock puppet for the company. Why these are a Good Thing.

My concerns aren't just about domestic abuse. What if a person in, say Saudi Arabia, began writing things critical of the monarchy or religion? I know "What Ifs" are just speculation, but if this behaviour was indeed benign and of no use, they would likely have abandoned it years ago.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085391)

OK, so you don't agree with them. That's good, you seemed to be coming across as a sock puppet for the company. Why these are a Good Thing.

I definitely didn't intend to come across that way, but reading my original post from a neutral standpoint, I think you're right. I should be more careful with my wording in the future.

My concerns aren't just about domestic abuse. What if a person in, say Saudi Arabia, began writing things critical of the monarchy or religion?

I still stick by the concept that these people should be able to circumvent the problem fairly easily. And if they don't, well, yes - it will be used against them - and that is indeed a bad thing. I would contend that the bigger problem is that they live somewhere where they can get in trouble for writing criticisms of the monarchy or religion. It's not their fault, but they've got bigger concerns than the inconvenience of having to mask their prints in some way.

I know "What Ifs" are just speculation, but if this behaviour was indeed benign and of no use, they would likely have abandoned it years ago.

Sadly, that's just the bureaucracy of big companies. I would imagine the only reason we added the feature to begin with on our machines was that it was less hassle to do so than not to do so. I don't defend the person who made that decision, but I somewhat understand it. Getting rid of it would take active effort (remove the code that does so) whereas leaving it there requires no change. No change is easier than change.

Re:What's the problem? (2)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085457)

Once upon a time this was a problem - I'm thinking of Eastern Europe during the cold war, but back then they had limited access to things like typewriters and copiers, so when the stazi kicked your door in they could find that your typewriter wrote out the seditious pamphlets.

Today there are more printers than you can think of - they're almost disposable as the companies try to make their profits from the ink. Many of these are connected to the internet and available online or in kiosks, so it should be a lot easier to hide your tracks.

All that said though, some countries where they still have oppressive regimes (and I'm not thinking of America now) don't have the same level of access to this technology, so it's still a problem for them.

Your company (and the American government) ought to understand this, and allow non-identifiable printers to be sold abroad, or at least have a means of printing banknotes that always have flaws without the personal identifiers.

Re:What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085085)

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.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085433)

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

They are indeed on the order of 100 microns.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085105)

I just take issue with your claim that the printer has no time or location data. The printer is constantly connected to things that have time and location data.

Re:What's the problem? (2)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085427)

I just take issue with your claim that the printer has no time or location data. The printer is constantly connected to things that have time and location data.

True, but the devices are simply not that smart to make use of it. Trust me, the firmware developers in the printer industry aren't exactly the best and brightest in the software development world. They use the time as determined by the machine. They use the serial number that is programmed in to them. There is no location data of any use (specifically, I can tell you that the "location" variable on Konica Minolta devices in Europe is "Europe" - hardly an accurate location statement)

Note that when I talk about these firmware developers, I am referring to colleagues of mine. They're not "dumb", they're just a different kind of software person to the likes of myself and many here on slashdot. They have a different mindset and think about different kinds of things and different concerns than I would. I wouldn't be any good at their job (e.g. figuring out how to get the best user experience in a real-time OS controlling both the operation panel and the print processing) and they wouldn't be any good at mine (writing userland software for complex networked environments to interact with the devices (including keeping security on my side of the fence as a priority)).

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085113)

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)

You're assuming the network admins are both competent and actually care. Neither of which are usually true. Everywhere where I've seen a networked printer it has always had fully public IP address and accessible from the Internet. The admins just don't bother to do anything about it.

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.

I see where you're coming from, but I personally see even the attempt at such as a rather disgusting move. But as I said, that's just how I feel about it, I don't expect everyone to feel the same way.

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.

Good for you tbh :) I myself would be loud and clear whenever I felt there was shortcomings on our products or the company did something questionable or stupid, and I wouldn't be afraid of criticising my superiors either as I value healthy criticism more than mindless butt kissing. Then again, I'm unemployed and would likely get fired rather quickly exactly because of that..( superiors do not like to hear criticism, they want to feel pampered! ) ;)

Re:What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085389)

IMO, the microdots aren't an issue unless you're trying to print photography. In which case, yes the stupid dots get in the way. There are better ways of solving counterfeits with regular printers, and one of those is by switching to plastic (new canadian 100's are plastic.) The other is by not producing "worthless" money at all, and switching entirely to electronic payments. But unfortunately the US Debit/Credit system is caught in a quagmire of fees, so that's why a cashless society isn't possible there. Other countries, like Canada, have a separate Debit system (Interac http://www.interac.ca/merchants/fees.php ) charging less than VISA/MC/AMEX but is only adopted by payers who have no-fee accounts from credit unions. The Banks only let you have like two transactions per month and then start charging you. So it's more of a cheque replacement than a cashless payment.

At any rate, paying with counterfeit money is stupid. If you're going to rip off someone with something you printed on your home printer, you rip off the vending machines, because they aren't sophisticated.

Re:What's the problem? (2)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085447)

but changing the serial isn't enough, unless you do it after every print job. the problem with the serial is they can tell multiple sheets of paper came from the same printer. if you make a mistake and print out objectionable content, and then forget to change the serial and print out some non-objectionable material and are carrying that piece of paper around, they can then track you back to the objectionable content which has the same serial. even if that is not the same serial that originally shipped with the printer.

also keep in mind that what some govt's (China for example) view as objectionable might be viewed as perfectly innocent by many people.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084915)

Firstly, what's the big deal with the document having these microdots?

1. Why is the U.S. government requireing/paying equipment manufacturers to make my documents (which should be of no importance to them, especially in a different country) trackable only by their agencies?
2. Why is this not documented in the manual of the product?
3. If it is a feature, why can't I use it to my benefit?
4. If they have nothing to hide, why are they hiding it?

At the end of the day, it's a government (possibly not one you are ruled by) creating a tracking system to track everyone, regardless of guilt. This should not be allowed. Will you still be asking that question when the government jumps in bed with Big Pharm so people given innoculations with RFID chips and the streets lined with readers to track people "in case they commit a crime" down the street? They are 3/4 the way there already with cameras. The possibility of tin foil hat theories becoming reality seems to be increasing every day....

Re:What's the problem? (2)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085439)

4. If they have nothing to hide, why are they hiding it?

If people have nothing to hide, why are the government taking such a keen interest in them?

Re:What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084955)

First off, TFA never mentioned location, so submitter fail. Second, do you honestly believe it is "impossible" for a printer to ever figure out its approximate or exact location? Network printers used in homes or small offices can easily use a web service to get their location down to a portion of a city block using their public IP address. All printers can sport a hidden GPS chip, again, perfect for home and any size office near a window. Finally, barring all that the installed print driver can use the PC sending the print job to do the heavy lifting.

Again, it was never actually said, but it's also not impossible by a long shot.

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

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084967)

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.

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

gaspyy (514539) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085007)

Because as we are seeing now with Syria or even here in the USA with PATRIOT and NDAA it really isn't a stretch for a government to become hostile to its own people. The ability to build grass roots support is one of the ways one can actually use the power of the people against the government but if they can simply track down the ones that are uppity and make them just go "poof"? lot harder to ever cause any change.

Re:What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085055)

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.

That's just what they want you to think.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085127)

Firstly, what's the big deal with the document having these microdots?

If they're not significant then why are they there? Either they are of use to law enforcement and therefore of concern to citizens, or they aren't useful and they're a waste of our tax dollars.

Sure it's possible the dots are useful to law enforcement for reasons that do not affect privacy, but the onus is on them to explain and demonstrate that.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085129)

They're wasting my ink, that's the problem!

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085147)

I work for a university and we've used this to find out who was printing politically "charged flyers". From our printers. we were able to identify which printed was used and when, and thus able to identify a single student. I'm not sure what became of him, but I know one of the guys from student-life wanted him expelled.

Dont assume that this will only be used to find counterfeiters, because it already had been used for more.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

errandum (2014454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085251)

Most recent prints have wireless connectivity. From there to a coarse location is not a stretch (and since some actually contact an outside server, they can even trace the IP back to you).

Also, documents sometimes have that information themselves, and the printer can use that information to identify the creator.

Not saying they do, just that if they want to know where you are, they can. Printers with modified firmware have even been used as points of entry by the government before, so it's not that far fetched that the seemingly innocuous device can gather lots of information about you.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

Cwix (1671282) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085305)

Do me a favor.

Go down to the guys in the driver dept, and hand out a few swift kicks to the balls.

Re:What's the problem? (3, Interesting)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085509)

Do me a favor.

Go down to the guys in the driver dept, and hand out a few swift kicks to the balls.

Oh, I would SO love to... Sadly, the main driver devs are sitting in Japan and our guys here in Europe only do customisations and localisation - they don't deserve the kick.

On the plus side, if you're located in Europe and have a company (even just a one-person company) with a non-"freemail" email address, sign up (for free, but with NDA agreement) to our Developer Support Portal [konicaminolta.eu] and you can get all our PDL (PJL, PCL, PS) specs to make your own driver. Wait a few months and there may be some even cooler stuff there for doing your own drivers much more easily (sorry, can't confirm that definitely right now).

Any questions, post on the forums there and I'll answer as best I can! (or pay for a developer support contract and get guaranteed full technical answers to questions as well as a lot more cool resources)

Re:What's the problem? (1)

CrazyDuke (529195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085409)

Challenge accepted...

#1 I was not aware that only the technically adept were allowed to be whistle-blowers The people that are likely not to know how to get a document out digitally are the ones that will print the thing out..

#2 Lets say you print out your tax forms on a printer registered to you in the Bahamas, but the form only lists your assets as being in Florida. Now you have an audit for using a branch office printer to print off your taxes. And, oh, hey look, the TSA does not have a record of you leaving and re-entering the country around that date! Suspicious...

#3 The raging bitch queen [wordpress.com] and his/her shyster lawyer discovers that the printer that some of your statements and offers are printed on happens to be at a house occupied by a member of the opposite sex not related to you. Oh, shit!

Always running out of yellow ink (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085525)

The PROBLEM is that my printer refuses to print a simple page of (monochrome) text until I buy a new yellow ink cartridge. The other problem is that the yellow ink cartridge keeps running dry sooner than the other colors.

And I am one of the "lucky" ones who paid enough for a printer that when the yellow ink runs out I do not have to throw out a bunch of other ink.

Imagine if the govt got car manufacturers to spray unique gasoline patterns on the ground every 500 ft using. That would be really handy for tracking criminal activity, but wouldn't you be ticked off that they are making you waste your expensive gas for that? And ink is many times more expensive than gas.

Yay! I have a Lexmark! (5, Informative)

erroneus (253617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084827)

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

Re:Yay! I have a Lexmark! (5, Funny)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084899)

No worries, lexmark print quality is so horrid and their printers so unreliable who in their right mind would actually try to counterfeit anything using one?

yellow visible in blue light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084869)

Yellow dots only visible under blue light? I'm guessing that the term 'black light' should be in place here.

Re:yellow visible in blue light? (1)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085065)

The white paper reflects blue light while the yellow ink doesn't, so the dots would appear darker. Both ink and paper could fluoresce under UV, which would probably reduce contrast and make the dots harder to spot.

yellow dots?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084885)

I was just wondering how they are putting yellow dots on the page with a monochrome laser printer?
Secret ink supplies?

Re:yellow dots?? (2)

Bardwick (696376) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085009)

Can't print green money on a B/W printer..

A work around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084917)

So all I have to do to avoid this is just print in black and white? :s

Re:A work around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084993)

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.

Yeah - way ahead of you.

I knocking off some B&W $100 Bills right now.

Bwahahahahahah!

My intellect is way beyond those Government stooges! I may even get an article about me posted on Fark with that tag for brilliance named after that French Philosopher/Mathematician - "Dumbass" that's "Monsieur Dumbass de Nemours"

I will go down as the genius to outmanoeuvre and masturbate the Secret Service!

I don't think my HPLJ4 has this problem. (0)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084921)

n/t

EPSON's not on the list? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084923)

Interesting. No tracking, and the piezoelectic printheads are suitable for directly handling biological cells.

Who Cares? (1)

shawnhcorey (1315781) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084935)

I've stopped using printers years ago. They're simply not needed anymore. Who cares if the US government is using them to secretly spy on you?

Fix. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084941)

Add a very faint yellow gradient to your image.

Top reasons for surveillance (3, Insightful)

dragisha (788) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 :).

Re:Top reasons for surveillance (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085245)

"recommended sentences for looking at pictures of children being sexually abused sometimes eclipse those for actually sexually abusing a child"
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/22/nyregion/22judge.html?pagewanted=all

I'm just going to leave this here...

How much you wanna bet (2)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39084971)

it was just a "voluntary" request for cooperation.

(That means they had good old Joe Lieberman call up the company and "ask" them to print teh dots.)

Re:How much you wanna bet (1)

sco08y (615665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085351)

it was just a "voluntary" request for cooperation.

(That means they had good old Joe Lieberman call up the company and "ask" them to print teh dots.)

If Slow Joe had made the call, there would be dots, then some stripes, a nice bit of plaid here and there, and probably the wallpaper pattern from his Aunt Lizzie's place in the 70s. Boy, let me tell you about Aunt Lizzie, she made the best apple pie...

um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084977)

so, wait...what printer makers didn't cooperate? lol.

Re:um... (5, Informative)

zill (1690130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085123)

Here's a partial list:

lexmark
Kodak
TVS Electronics
WeP
PENTAX
Planon
prolink
Olivetti
Epson
Lenovo
OKI
Panasonic
Dell
Samsung
Kyocera

Someone already made the bad printing quality joke so I won't bore you with it again.

So this is why my ink runs out so fast! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084979)

So this is why my ink runs out so fast! Those dots are wasting my ink! I didn't authroize this use of my equipment! There should be disclaimers stating that the 500 pages that can be printed 2 of those pages of ink is used up just for the tracking!

Re:So this is why my ink runs out so fast! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085035)

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

Another victory for democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39084989)

Dictators and totalitarian regimes can now use that technology to identify the printers used by dissenters to print underground papers critisizing the current political regimes. Another victory for free speach in the world.

Magic GPS? (2)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085025)

Are printers coming with Magical GPS systems now?
Cause last I checked, GPS doesnt work indoors, and a GPS system costs more than the price of an entry level printer
And, without GPS, how do they plan to get your location?
Also, where does the printer get an accurate time reading from, and how do you link a serial number to a person unless they take the printer in for servicing, or purchased it using their own credit card

Re:Magic GPS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085243)

GPS works just fine in my second storey office. My NTP stratum-1 server is a bit dependent on that.

Interesting (1)

dangle (1381879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085027)

Because I've been wondering for a while why the yellow ink was always disappearing faster than the other colors on our printers, I wonder if this accounts for some of the loss?

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085093)

This would be my only objection, I paid for that ink!

Perhaps if the printer detected roughly proportional color quantities to that of bank notes, then print the dots.

Re:Interesting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085203)

Dude - that's because of all that Simpsons porn you print.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085281)

It uses yellow the most because yellow is the primary mixer to make most other colours.

Re:Interesting (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085411)

I knew about these dots and I was not all that surprised when I bought my Ricoh Aficio CL2000N that the yellow and black cartridges were larger than the cyan and magenta cartridges.

So steal the printer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085049)

Toss it in some random dumpster after printing some large but not giant amount of "cash."

Repeat.

Seems fairly obvious.

What? (2, Funny)

Rydia (556444) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085053)

Really? This is cause for outrage? The insane idea that the government might look at something you wrote and hunt you down using a printer serial number and some possible registration information? This isn't a "the innocent have nothing to hide" argument, this is a "any government agency that actually used this for anything other than the stated purpose is insane" argument. There are hundreds of far more efficient, reliable and accurate ways to figure out who you are and what you have been up to.

Reading through the comments, about how your printer is going to betray you when the fascist power grab comes, it is abundantly clear that a sizable portion of slashdotters enjoy nothing more than working themselves up by finding whatever scant excuse to go on hyperbolic rants about how the government is just waiting to come and take them away to gitmo, and that the only way to avoid this is to compete to see who is the most paranoid.

The sad thing is when the government DOES overstep its bounds and quash our freedoms, these people will have negative credibility because everyone else know that, to them, everything is a sinister government plot.

good thing im cheap! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085061)

2 or 3 years ago, when circuit city was going belly up, I nabbed a Samsung clp310/315 (I forget wchich for under $100 when other stores were over $180. Decent color laser for the price, but now that I know it can "make you money back" it ends up being a fantastic device! (Better than any of the make money back credit cards!)

Certainly not microscopic (5, Informative)

kccricket (217833) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085089)

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.

Defective by design (4, Interesting)

fibonacci8 (260615) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085115)

This probably helps explain why so many customers have brought printers to me complaining of the defect where B&W print jobs do not print when the color cartidge gets low.

Just buy a used printer off craigslist (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085239)

Just buy a used printer off craigslist. No one will know you have it.

Note to self. (3, Insightful)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085347)

Never buy a used printer.

Government Dots ;o) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39085387)

Everything is dots!
Connect the dots!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3__ssxTvNc

Samizdat (2)

anwaya (574190) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085437)

One of the things a fully developed police state needs to be able to do is control the flow of all information. You need a mechanism that can be used to identify who has been producing physical copies of banned works - say, a play by Vaclav Havel, or a copy of The Master and Margarita - so that you can lock them up.

What these printer companies have done, by collaborating with the US in this way, is to make it easier for police states to monitor and control the physical flow of information.

Can anyone ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085441)

... suggest a good utility for printing additional, obfuscating dots?

Seems the EFF is scared (1)

pcjunky (517872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085453)

Seems EFF got scared and took down the material on this matter from there website. None of the article links to EFF work.

If the government really wanted to get to you... (2)

Streetlight (1102081) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085503)

It was alleged that during one of the Gulf Wars, the US had modified printers sold to Iraq with some kind of location device allowing cruise missiles to find their target. I assume this was some kind of radio transmitter that identified what Iraqi government department had purchased the printer. I'm also guessing that the device probably cost a lot more than the printer. It has just recently been noted in the news that in the US pilotless drones will be allowed to fly presumably looking for bad guys. I think folks may have more to worry about than yellow dots on printer output. It's been known that military ordinance sometimes hits the wrong target, so beware.

How does it work? (1)

Paulvdh (1191913) | more than 2 years ago | (#39085517)

I have two questions: 1) Does the printer do this by itself, or is it the driver? 2) My printer has no separate yellow tank for printing these dots, so is it the normal yellow ink that requires blue light to be visible? What if I use 3rd party ink (apart from voiding warranty)?
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