More and more, the machines that we use and depend on are collecting information about us. In some cases, they just store it for later access. In other cases, they actually report back to their makers (the product manufacturer). This information can and does find its way into the hands of the government and who know who else? Is this a problem, or just a way to make the world safer for law abiding citizens? Let’s take a look at some of the ways our technology is telling on us.

It’s been common knowledge for a while that several major printer vendors engineer their color laser printers to embed tiny yellow dots into the printed documents to make it possible to track the origins of the document. This was done in cooperation with the U.S. Secret Service for the ostensible purpose of tracking down counterfeiters who use the printers to make their own currency. Last month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was able to crack the code for Xerox DocuColor printers. Their researchers discovered that printers made by Xerox imprint the serial number of the printer and the date and time the document was printed.

Xerox isn’t the only vendor using the technology; it’s just the only one for which the code has been cracked. Other printer brands that embed identifying information include Canon, Dell, Epson, HP, Lexmark and others. Wondering if your color laser is telling the world (or at least, the U.S.S.S.) where and when your documents were printed? Here’s a list of some of the brands and models that do here.

Last spring, the Real ID Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Bush. It requires state issued driver’s licenses and ID cards to have “machine readable technology” in order for them to be accepted for air travel, banking and entering federal buildings. Just last month, the U.S. State Department laid out rules for embedding radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in U.S. passports issued after October 2006.

At the same time, our cell phones have built-in Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) transceivers that can pinpoint our locations (although most of them currently allow you to turn the feature off). Our new cars contain “black boxes” (or more formally, Sensing and Diagnostic Modules or SDMs) that record data about travel velocity, heading, location and even the number of occupants and whether they’re using seatbelts. Cameras are watching and recording our actions in stores and office buildings, at red lights and toll booths, and even on public streets. The U.K. has had cameras everywhere for quite some time. In the wake of the London bombings, New York City is now planning to add cameras to their own subways.

Any one of these, by itself, seems fairly innocuous. Taken together, it paints a picture of a society in which privacy has become a thing of the past and we’re under constant surveillance. Now the European Commission is proposing to keep detailed records of phone calls made, emails sent and Web sites surfed by all 450 million EU citizens, link here

Does this trend make you nervous, or is it just the price we pay to live in high tech times? Do the advantages of modern technology outweigh the disadvantages (including the privacy issues)? How far will it go? What do you think the future holds for individual privacy – or the lack thereof? Let us know what you think.

Deb Shinder
Editor, Sunbelt WXPNews