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Color printer as people finder?
Report says printouts contain code that includes printer's serial number, when page was printed.
October 19, 2005: 9:42 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If you want to go into hiding, get rid of your color printer.

The pages coming from your machine may contain hidden information that could be used to track you down, according a report in The Washington Post.

The Post said that printouts from many color laser printers contain yellow dots viewable only under a special flashlight, and that these dots contain a secret digital "license tag" that law-enforcement authorities can use to track criminals.

"It's strictly a countermeasure to prevent illegal activity specific to counterfeiting," Secret Service agent Eric Zahren told the newspaper. "It's to protect our currency and to protect people's hard-earned money."

The content of the code is supposed to be a secret only for agencies looking for counterfeiters, but the Post said that a San Francisco consumer privacy group has cracked the code in a widely used line of Xerox (unchanged at $12.96, Research) printers.

Seth Schoen, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the newspaper that he was worried about privacy, saying that the information was not encrypted in a highly secure fashion. After collecting samples from printers around the world, they were handed to an intern who came back with the code broken in about a week.

The EFF said the invisible code contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed, according to the report.

The EFF also told the newspaper that it has found similar coding on pages printed from nearly every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard (unchanged at $27.73, Research).

"It seems like someone in the government has managed to have a lot of influence in printing technology," Schoen was quoted as saying.

A Xerox spokesman confirmed that the codes exist, telling the Post that the program was part of a cooperation with government agencies, competing manufacturers and consortium of banks.

HP was quoted as saying that it is involved in anti-counterfeiting measures.


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