The Electronic Frontier Foundation has cracked a code embedded invisibly on documents produced by Xerox DocuColor series printers, which reveals information like the date, time and printer serial number in a grid of dots at the bottom of each page.
At the end of 2004, there was an article printed in popular computer magazine PC World mentioning the dots, and the EFF decided to take a look. Evidence of the “yellow dot” code has been found on documents as old as 10 years. A list of models affected is on the Foundation’s Web site, www.eff.org.
Rebecca Jeschke, a spokesperson for the EFF, said she has received e-mails from across the globe about the story. “These printers are sold all over the world,” said Jeshke. “There are international ramifications.”
As far as the EFF knows, there was no court order or legal requirement compelling Xerox to implement this code. Washington Post articles hint that it was an agreement between Xerox and the Secret Service. Jeshke paraphrased Xerox’s response to criticism as, “You think this is bad? People are listening to your cell phone conversations.”
“I don’t think most people have anything to worry about,” she said. ” But if I were a federal agent, I might have other ways to utilize that information; I might be able to start putting more things together. I could call Xerox and ask where the printer with that serial number was and go to that place.”
“That is creepy,” said freshwoman Kari Meno. “That’s like Big Brother all over again. They’re in Kinkos and everything.”
“It’s such an invasion of privacy … it might not be such a big deal for me personally, but for people who write for journals or small publications about sensitive subjects – where their opinion isn’t a popular one, it would be terrible if the government used that information to profile people,” said sophomore Alex Widmann.
Evidence of the same type of coding has been found on printouts from every major printer maker like Dell or Hewlett-Packard. They are only on color laser printers, not inkjets or black and white. So far, Xerox’s code is the only one broken. The issue extends much further than dots on a page. “This is about the government making secret deals with private companies,” says Jeshke. “What other kinds of deals [are] the government making with other types of technologies that we use every day? 10 more things? 20 more things? How much is too much?”