Secret code added to most colour prints

By EDRi · November 3, 2004

While printer-manufacturer Canon was awarded a Big Brother Award in Germany for secretly adding a unique code to every print-out made on household printing equipment, the practice is very wide-spread. Many laser printers seem to print-out a unique number on every print-out, invisible to the bare eye, measuring only 0,1 millimetre. The Dutch police has admitted to e-zine Webwereld that they have used these marks to detect the sources of print-outs, tracing individual printers through the vendor chain. “We are familiar with this research method,” said Ed Kraszewski of the Dutch national police agency KLPD. “We are using it in our research and it has proven to be successful in the past.”

Even though the spokesman would not give any further details on these successes, anonymous sources confirmed to Webwereld that the Dutch Railway Police, part of the KLPD, is investigating a gang that could be counterfeiting tickets on a large scale.

Although modern printers are sold under many different brand names, the insides are very similar. Inside every machine is a print engine with a unique and traceable identity. These engines are produced by a handful companies, such as Toshiba Corp., Canon Inc. and Ricoh Co. Ltd.

Members of the Dutch Parliament have raised the issue on 27 October with minister Brinkhorst of economical affairs, demanding he should publish a list of all the involved printer manufacturers, explain why this ‘feature’ is kept secret, and how he is encouraging the manufacturers to start a public awareness campaign.

Dutch track counterfeits via printer serial numbers (25.10.2004)