DOT complying with cookie rules

DOT IG's "Report on Web Privacy"

The Transportation Department is complying with an Office of Management and Budget policy on cookies after a review last fall by the agency's Inspector General found at least 20 Web sites that violated the rule, the IG said in a Feb. 26 report.

Between August 2000 and February 2001, Transportation's IG identified 22 DOT Web pages using unauthorized persistent cookies. The General Accounting Office identified another site in December 2000. Twenty of the sites belonged to the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the "Report on Web Privacy" released by Alexis Stefani, assistant IG for auditing at DOT.

Cookies are a mechanism used on Web sites to collect information by placing small bits of data on Web users' computers, the report said. Persistent cookies track information over time and across Web sites and remain stored on visitors' computers until a specified expiration date.

OMB requires federal agencies to post clear notices when they use persistent cookies, and they must display privacy statements explaining how the information is used. Agencies must have a compelling need for the information collected by cookies and approval to do so by the head of the agency.

The IG first reported unauthorized use of persistent cookies on DOT Web sites in September during a congressional hearing. As of Dec. 31, 2000, all DOT agencies except the FAA had certified their compliance with the rule. In January 2001, FAA reported that it eliminated more than 80 unauthorized uses of persistent cookies, and certified its compliance with the Web privacy policy on Jan. 31, according to the IG report.

In February, the DOT IG found continued unauthorized use of persistent cookies on FAA Web sites and reported that unintentional cookies resulted from improper software configuration and a default setting on a certain Web development tool.

The IG also identified a few instances of persistent cookies on DOT contractors' Web sites.

At the IG's recommendation, the DOT chief information officer developed a "Cookie Use Checklist" for DOT agencies. The new IG report recommends that DOT update the checklist to require periodic re-certification of compliance with the Web privacy policy.

The IG also recommended in its Feb. 26 report that DOT agencies inform the DOT CIO of any inadvertent cookies introduced by Web configuration or development tools.

A new agency CIO has not been appointed by President Bush, but the DOT deputy CIO will correct the problems by March 15, the report said.

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