Agencies warned on cookies

Bush administration officials are promising "to light a fire" under agency Web managers who violate privacy regulations that forbid the use of cookies that track the activities of Web site visitors.

The cookie ban imposed last June by the Clinton administration "is still in effect, and we expect [agencies] to be in compliance with it," said Chris Ullman, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. "We will work with them on that."

Reports submitted to Congress by inspectors general from 16 agencies showed that as of March 30, seven agencies operated 64 federal Web sites that continued to use persistent cookies. Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) released the findings April 17.

The 16 agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Treasury Department, represent about a third of the agencies required to send Web audit reports to Congress. With dozens of agencies yet to file reports, the number of sites violating the ban likely will be higher, said Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

OMB banned persistent cookies from federal Web sites in all but the most unusual circumstances. Persistent cookies were deemed a violation of Web users' privacy when it was discovered that the Office of Drug Control Policy was using them to track visitors to its Web site.

Persistent cookies are pieces of computer code placed on an Internet user's computer by a Web site. They track the user's movement from page to page through the Web site, and some track movement from site to site.

In the private sector, companies use cookies to tie online activity to data such as names, addresses and buying habits.

Many privacy advocates worry that cookies give the government too much monitoring ability. For example, they fear that monitoring a taxpayer's visits to Internal Revenue Service pages about tax deductions might lead to audits.

But John Spotila said he was "never aware of anything sinister" about cookies being used on government Web sites. Until last year, Spotila was head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

He said cookies can help improve Web pages by providing information about what site visitors like and don't like. In addition, government Web sites that were designed by commercial contractors may include cookies simply because they are common on commercial sites, Spotila said. In other cases, agency Web managers may be unaware that cookies have essentially been banned on government sites.

The ban on cookies does not apply to "session cookies," which disappear from the user's computer when an Internet session ends.

Cookies aren't the only violations the inspectors general reported. Many sites fail to post privacy policies as required.

Half the Education Department's Web sites that collect personal information lack posted privacy policies, and nine pages were linked to servers that collect e-mail addresses without the user's knowledge.

The Trasportation Department said April 20 that it had removed all cookies from its 23 Web sites after its IG reported finding them in mid-February. The agency created a checklist for Web managers to follow to prevent cookies from being used on DOT Web sites in the future, a spokesman said.

"For the most part, they were inadvertent," he said. The cookies were added to Web sites during upgrades — often automatically by software — and unbeknownst to agency Web managers.

Thompson, who is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the discovery of such widespread cookie use was disturbing because agencies "should be setting the standard for privacy protection in the Information Age." Thompson said he planned to introduce legislation that would create a commission to examine government privacy practices.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.