You might want to think twice before you send an anonymous letter criticizing the government or its policies. It can be traced right back to you.
For years, machine identification code technology has been used by printer manufacturers to burn a printer’s serial number – using microscopic yellow dots -- on each printed page. Though some printing companies have shared this information with the government, names have never been released -- until recently.
The government, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request by freelance journalist Theo Karantsalis, has released the names of 10 printer manufacturers that have “fulfilled or agreed to fulfill document identification requests submitted by the Secret Service.”
The companies listed on the release include: Canon, Brother, Casio, Sharp, HP, Konica-Minolta, Mita, Ricoh, and Xerox.
“Our privacy rights are eroding more and more each day,” said Karantsalis, whose original 2010 request was denied.
But the Secret Service relented after he filed an administrative appeal and threatened legal action. For years, Karantsalis studied the mysterious dots using a blue LED light he got from the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which published a tracking dot “decoding guide.”
But the EFF thinks that Karantsalis’ release has inadvertently shed light on a potentially greater privacy breach.
“The same yellow dots were instrumental in a recent DARPA ‘reverse shredding’ challenge that let one team reveal what was cross shredded,” said Seth Schoen, a Senior Staff Technologist at the EFF. DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“Just because you shred something, that doesn’t mean it has been destroyed," said Schoen, who feels this should be a “wake-up call” for the government and others who handle sensitive information. “They all need to review their shredding policies.”