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15 February 2008, 14:24

EU Commission criticises colour laser watermarks

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EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini says that the mysterious dots appearing on printouts produced by colour laser printers from various manufacturers, such as Canon and Xerox, are cause for concern. While he said he did not know of any specific law that these "tracking dots" violate, in a written response to Finnish EU representative Satu Hassi of the Greens Frattini says that it might be possible to use printed or copied material to identify individual users -- and that could be a violation of "fundamental human rights", such as current data protection provisions.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that it managed to decode the dots on colour printouts back in 2005. The EFF found that the date and time of the printout was indicated along with the printer's serial number. Civil rights groups say that the codes were added at the behest of the US Secret Service, which wanted to be able to track down forgeries. Now, the EFF would like to know whether the EU is putting pressure on its ally to change these secret agreements with printer manufacturers, or whether it knew about this covert encryption all along. Furthermore, the organisation is interested to know whether any other governments are able to control its citizens' printouts and, if so, which. (Stefan Krempl)


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