Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Privacy + Secrecy = Stupidity

In November, 2004 PC World lifted the lid on a shady deal between major printer manufacturers and the US Government allowing intelligence services to keep track of who's printing what.

More than a year later the ever-vigilant Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has decoded the secret markings that our colour printers include in every printout. Turns out, it's a storm in a teacup: the codes include date and time of printing and the printer's serial number, allowing the US Secret Service to track down currency counterfeiters. And of course, the secret's out. Bag open, cat gone. The EFF even provides the source code for an automatic decoding program.

This kind of stupidity does more harm than good: it scares the general public into countless conspiracy theories, causes privacy backlashes and is ultimately ineffective. Deals like these always hit the spotlight, sooner or later, after which workarounds for evildoers are a walk in the park. Meanwhile, the public is left behind with an unnerving "Told you so, Big Brother's watching" feeling.

Governments should know better than to succumb to this kind of short-term shrewdness. And companies should pay more attention to consumers' interests, instead of playing along when narrow-minded Government minions come up with silly plots.

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