OMB counters 'cookies' with memo

Following the outcry this week regarding a White House Web site tracking

users via "cookies," the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday sent

a reminder to federal agencies about privacy.

In a memo to all agencies, OMB spelled out the requirement to provide clear

privacy policies to the public and set a new policy prohibiting the use

of technology to track visitors to agency World Wide Web sites.

Earlier this week, the White House confirmed that its Web site for the Office

of National Drug Control Policy used cookies to track how visitors used

the site. Cookies are small pieces of software placed on a Web site visitor's

hard drive to track the activity of the user on the Internet.

This activity raised questions from privacy groups and Congress and led

to a memo from OMB.

In the memo, OMB Director Jacob Lew reiterated the Clinton administration's

policy that "privacy policies must be clearly labeled and easily accessed

when someone visits a Web site." This June 1999 policy also stated that

agencies could use technology such as cookies only if the agencies gave

clear notice of the cookies.

The new policy states that cookies should not be used by federal agencies

or their contractors unless the following conditions are met:

* There is a compelling need to gather the date on the site.

* The agency takes the appropriate and publicly disclosed privacy safeguards

for handling of information derived from cookies.

* The Web site administrators have received personal approval from the head

of the agency.

Lew also asked each agency to include a description of their privacy practices

and the steps they take to ensure compliance with the new policy in their

information technology budget submission for fiscal 2003.

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