Monday, July 19, 2004
EURion: You Can't Photoshop™ Money Any More? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
click to visit the US Treasury's 'Rules of Use' page

I came upon this Big Brotherly tidbit today via SpudArt:
Photoshop CS would not allow me to open up the scans of the 20-dollar bills from the previous post about Thoughts on money. This was the error message: This application does not support the unauthorized processing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to www.rulesforuse.org

Creepy. Is there some sort of man inside photoshop that is looking at my images? They probably sent an email to the feds getting me in trouble! What. What's that at the door?
Intriguing. I haven't tried scanning or processing bills for a long time (not that I was up to no good the last time I did), and my version of Photoshop is legacy (v. 5.5) so I couldn't verify this feature for myself - but I decided to surf and see what fell out of the Web. A visitor named Donna provided this helpful link in her SpudArt comment:
A number of new designs of banknotes contain a pattern known as the EURion constellation which can be used to detect their identity as banknotes to prevent counterfeiting using modern inexpensive digital scanners, colour printers, and image processing software. This feature prevents the user from scanning notes, or even printing. It was discovered after some users tried to scan euro banknotes in image editors such as Adobe Photoshop, or Paint Shop Pro.

The EURion constellation consists of a pattern of five small circles, which is repeated across areas of the banknote at different orientations.

The EURion constellation was first detected on the new Euro banknotes. The EURion constellation also appears on recent British banknotes, and the back of the new U.S. $20 bill.
Okay, maybe a built-in image recognition blocker is useful in combating some counterfeiters, but what if this technology can be taken further? These particular filtering applications seem to search for a specific pattern in an image, rather than broader, "fuzzy logic" recognition of a specific face, or text pattern.

(As I love to do) let's play this out to its absurd extension. Conceivably, software developers could code a specific person's biometric facial coordinates (a la the new passport ID systems) - perhaps preventing satirically-minded "Photoshoppers™" from manipulating an image of, say, the President's face?

Could software recognize certain parts of human anatomy and prevent processing (or downloading, or saving) of "indecent" images? 2-D and 3-D image-based search engine technology exists, capable of tracking down pages with pictures corresponding to basic shapes "drawn" in a javascript menu box. They're rather rudimentary at this stage, at least in public release; if you draw a pear shape, for instance, you may retrieve images ranging from snowmen to chew toys for dogs. Fortunately, I don't think image-editing software is quite smart enough yet, and if manufacturers manage to make it so, we'll have more to worry about than some snarky Photoshopper putting George W. Bush's head on a potato.

More here on the EURion Constellation algorithm and an image of EURion in use [PDF] on foreign currency, as documented by Markus Kuhn. Also, if you're PERL-handy, here is a link to a script where you can "EURion-ize" any color image. [Warning - I haven't tried this script or downloaded it, so use at your own risk]