Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Government Web Sites Still Track Visitors White House Forbids Such Use by Agencies

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Government Web Sites Still Track Visitors White House Forbids Such Use by Agencies

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Despite a White House prohibition, 13 government agencies are secretly using technology that tracks the Internet habits of people visiting their Web sites, and in at least one case provides the information to a private company, a congressional review has found.

The agencies range from the Federal Aviation Administration to the federal offices that provide disaster relief and administer Medicare, the General Accounting Office found in a study obtained by The Associated Press.

"How can this administration talk about protecting privacy when its own agencies jeopardize some of the public's most private information?" asked Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Thompson's committee has jurisdiction over the 1974 Privacy Act and other laws that dictate the government's privacy practices.

At issue is the use by the 13 government Web sites of small text files called "cookies" that record information about an Internet user's browsing habits when they visit a site.

In June, the White House Office of Management and Budget advised all federal agencies that they are not allowed to use such text files without approval from the agency head. If they are used, the OMB directive said, Web site visitors must be given "clear and conspicuous notice" of such use.

But the GAO, the investigatory arm of Congress, found that 13 agencies were using the technology to track visitors, although their formal Internet policy claimed they weren't doing so, and none of the Web site visitors were advised the technology was being used.

The study found all 13 tracked consumers' path during their visit to the site, and some were employing "persistent" text files that could be read for years after the initial visit. …

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