Monday, November 29, 2004

Will your printer narc you out?

According to PC World, it will if it's a color laser printer manufactured in the last several years. This technology, originally included to help the Treasury Department track down the "left side of the bell curve" group among counterfeiters, prints the serial number of the printer in very small yellow dots about once per inch on the page.

Used for this purpose, I'd have a hard time being upset. "So what if the printer was being used to print threatening letters?" you ask. Probably still OK by me--although given the twisting of legal definitions, "threatening" is all too often in the eye of the beholder.

But let's say you're a whistle-blower. You work for some big company or some government agency that is up to no good in some way. You write an anonymous letter and print it on company/agency letterhead as proof of your bona fides, and mail it off to the New York Times. (OK, work with me here. Think Three Days of The Condor, not the NY Times we all know and detest.)

But those microscopic yellow dots rat you out. By serial number, the printer is tracked to manufacturer, distributor, seller and finally buyer. (I work in IT--you don't have to fill in the little warranty card in order for someone to figure out you bought ABC printer serial number BF-549.) After a little in-house witch hunting, they figure out it was you, with predictable results.

Big Bro is not only watching us, but is able to track us. Cheery thought, huh?

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