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January 6, 2006

Government Cookies Show Up Even When Prohibited

There have been stories percolating in the press about the use of cookies on government sites.  The first set of reports appeared just before the New Year holiday concerned the use of cookies placed on machines of visitors to the National Security Agency web site in spite of federal rules to the contrary.  Once cookies were discovered and questioned the agency immediately disabled them.  The excuse given was that the Agency's site was recently upgraded and cookies were turned on inadvertently.  The irony was not lost on commentators who compared the revelation to other disclosures about domestic spying in apparent contradiction of existing law.

Then came word that the White House web site used web bugs (one pixel graphics) along with third party cookies from WebTrends.  David Almacy, the White House Internet director noted that the data from both were not used together and therefore not illegal.  The web bugs are not covered by guidelines and the cookies were not really from a government server.  In any event, "tracking" did not occur.

Now comes word that various congressional web sites, including several that have explicit notes that they do not collect cookie data in fact do so.  Among 66 congressional sites are those of John McCain, Harry Reid, and Ted Stevens.  McCain has been an outspoken advocate for privacy rules including those covering cookies.  When asked about these discrepancies, most webmasters offered variations on the "unintentional" theme.  Many congressional sites are created with Cold Fusion and cookies seem to be turned on by default until someone awkwardly discovers them and turns them off.

Advice:  Visit a government web site and check your cache to see if you have any unwanted government crumbs.

The stories are in the Washington Post here, here, and in CNET News here.

January 6, 2006 | Permalink

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