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Printing more than just a paper
Posted October 21, 2005

I know that I am not alone when I say Big Brother has been getting a little too nosy over the last few years. Sure, I may sound a wee bit paranoid, but I can’t be the first person to wonder if her telephone conversations were being recorded or if that flower delivery truck parked across the street was really there to perform non-floral related services.

With the PATRIOT Act in mind and the go-ahead to track people based on their cell phone usage, the government has been stepping a little over that whole right-to-privacy thing.

Sure, you can say that I should have nothing to worry about as long as I have nothing to hide, but darn it, I am worried and you should be as well.
As long as Uncle Sam decides he wants to track the whereabouts of some suspect based on his e-mail account or private telephone conversations without his authorization, who’s to say where he will stop? What will prevent the government from sticking a little microchip in the palm of someone’s hand in order to keep dibs on a person that they think could possibly, one day, maybe, become associated with a terrorist party?
These may sound like crazy exaggerations from an over-worked undergrad. But, are they really that far out there?

I doubt the Electronic Frontier Foundation would think so. In fact, the EFF is probably already at work uncovering and exposing some government tracking scheme involving microchips, bar codes and the human brain.
We should be thankful that an organization such as the EFF is looking out for our well-being.

But if you really think that I am taking this all a bit too seriously, maybe you should take a close look at your color printer and the pages you’re printing out.

According to the EFF, the United States Secret Service has admitted to striking a deal that will help them identify counterfeiters with certain big name laser printer manufacturers such as Xerox, Hewlett Packard and Canon. Certain printers made by these companies produce a series of dots on the back of printed documents. Private information is encoded in these dots including the time and date that the page was printed and the serial number of the printer used. To read these dots, a person would need blue light, a microscope or a magnifying glass.

(The details can be found at www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/.)

Xerox claimed that it was part of this deal based on the fact that only the Secret Service had the ability to break these codes. Well, I guess they were the only ones who could decipher them until the EFF gave it a shot.
EFF was able to crack the code printed from the Xerox DocuColor line and they are now asking for the public’s help in deciphering other printer codes.

Sure, the government says that they are only using this technology to spot counterfeit items. But, why should they stop there? Currently, there are no laws on the books that prevent the bigwigs from abusing this technology.

And if they are using printers today, what will they be using tomorrow? Laundry machines? Can openers? Your oh-so-special iPod?

And who is to say this information won’t be abused by others? For all you know, we at the Campus Times have already created our own special code using these crazy printers. We know when you picked this paper up. We know you turned straight to this column. We know where you are sitting right now. Yeah, we know more about you then you think.

In all seriousness, this is alarming. Our government is able to make backroom deals with companies that affect the private, everyday equipment we use, without even so much as a manufacturer’s warning.

For all we know, this is just the first compromise of privacy to be unveiled. I’m sure there is more to come.

Valerie Rojas, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at skalivornia@hotmail.com.