CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian did an interesting report last night on the privacy exposure from digital photocopiers. Here’s what happens:

  • Digital photocopiers built since 2002 essentially are computers that scan and print documents. These copiers have a hard drive that stores these scanned images.
  • The photocopiers apparently save these scanned images for a period of time.
  • Some copier manufacturers do not encrypt their images on the hard drive.
  • The images are not necessarily erased when the lease is up on the copier and it’s returned to the leasing company.
  • The next person that buys the used copier could possibly retrieve these images!

As part of the CBS News investigation, they purchased several used copiers from a New Jersey warehouse. Using a free software utility, they easily retrieved tens of thousands of documents from the copiers, including pay stubs with social security numbers, lists of sex offenders and drug raid targets from a Buffalo police department, and medical records from an insurance company.

This should give pause to anyone who makes copies anywhere — especially in an environment where they can’t control what happens after the copy is made. For example, in their work office, a public library, or an office supply store like OfficeMax, Office Depot, Staples, FedEx Office.