Passing the Buck: or, The Printer as a Fine French Wine
Xerox has responded to our
href="http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/">research on how printers
made by Xerox and other companies track the origin of documents
Its new "Xerox Statement on Counterfeit Detection" contains some
bizarre suggestions. The most prominent of these is that Xerox's
invasions of privacy are OK because other privacy invasions are worse:
Unlike much of the computer spy-ware prevalent on the
internet today, the yellow dots do not "contact" Xerox or
the government and send user content or location.
In a world where your cell phone gives your location, all
your phone calls are logged and available on the net, your
credit card transactions compiled and your network browsing
stored, the "yellow dots" are innocuous and they give
considerable protection against specific criminal behavior,
such as counterfeiting.
That's right: Xerox defends its decision because it's not as big an
intrusion as spyware, wiretapping, or spying on you through your cell
phone. It's the everybody-else-is-doing-it excuse. The company seems
to be channelling Sun CEO Scott McNealy, who told a group of journalists
in 1999 that "[y]ou have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."
(Read more after the jump.)
EFF and other privacy advocates have been fighting for years
to reverse the trends Xerox mentions, or to enhance the tools
available to the public for defending themselves. This month, we
won major victories as courts, agreeing with our legal arguments, href="http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/USA_v_PenRegister/">restricted the
government's ability to use cell phones to track individuals' movements.
We have also fought for the public's right to use encryption to send
private e-mail and make private telephone calls, and we have supported the
development of Tor to help users browse
the Internet without identifying themselves. We have argued for computer
users' rights to remove spyware from their own computers and to teach
others how to do so. EFF has fought and won href="http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Anonymity/cyberslapp.php">court cases
protecting the anonymity of on-line critics. Through
these cases, we have helped extend the U.S. tradition of legal protection
for anonymous pamphleteers firmly into the on-line world.
Our colleagues, privacy advocates at organizations
such as the Electronic Privacy Information
Center and the Privacy Rights
Clearinghouse, have sought to restrain the indiscriminate flow of
credit card transactions and other records.
We appreciate that Xerox perceives that technology has enabled a variety
of largely invisible threats to our privacy. Unlike Xerox, we do not
take this erosion of privacy as natural or inevitable, and we do not
consider it an excuse to deploy technologies that further erode privacy.
Instead, we fight it.
Xerox goes on to say that we should actually be reassured by the
tracking, since it's for our own protection:
Many products- cars, food, medicines, computers, toys and
many more, have such features for the protection of customers.
French wines put this proudly on their label.
While it's comforting to know that our office equipment has something
in common with a fine wine, our privacy is threatened in a particular
way by tracking systems embedded in our communication technologies,
in a way that it is typically not threatened by toys or beverages.
As a Federal appeals court
in an EFF-led case in 1999: "Whether we
are surveilled by our government, by criminals, or by our neighbors, it is
fair to say that never has our ability to shield our affairs from prying
eyes been at such a low ebb." If so, we got here not by nature, not by
accident, but bit-by-bit through the decisions of companies like Xerox.