OMB counters 'cookies'

June 1999 OMB memo: "Privacy Policies on Federal Web Sites"

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

users via "cookies," the Office of Management and Budget sent a reminder

about privacy to federal agencies June 22.

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

1999 policy that "privacy policies must be clearly labeled and easily accessed

when someone visits a Web site." This earlier policy also stated that agencies

could use technologies such as cookies only if the agencies gave clear notice

of them.

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 data 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 approval from the head of

the agency.

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