European Union justice watchdogs are concerned that “Big Brother” computer printer technology that allows security agencies to track printed documents might breach privacy laws. Most consumers are unaware that many popular colour laser printers, including those made by Brother, Cannon, Xerox and HP, embed almost invisible tracking dots onto documents, uniquely identifying the machine that printed them.
Franco Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice and Security, has launched an investigation after receiving official complaints from Euro-MPs.
“To the extent that individuals may be identified through material printed or copied using certain equipment, such processing may give rise to the violation of fundamental human rights, namely the right to privacy and private life,” he said.
“It also might violate the right to protection of personal data.”
Satu Hari, a Finnish Euro-MP, has taken up the issue of “forensic tracking mechanisms” after consumers “unsuccessfully asked manufacturers to disable this function”.
She has highlighted research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) finding that technology originally designed to prevent currency counterfeiting might end up as catch-all tool for general surveillance.
Danny O’Brien, a spokesman for the EFF, an organisation that defends “digital rights”, believes the technology could be used by authoritarian regimes, such as the Chinese, to repress dissent.