Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Do you like cookies? Your next cookie may not be one you expect…

The Associated Press gives more than a compelling reason to pause and ask, “Do I really need to be there?” before entering any Internet site supported or sponsored by the U.S. government.

According to AP, the Bush administration previously (in 2003) prohibited federal agencies from using cookies to electronically track U.S. citizens:

“In a 2003 memo, the White House's Office of Management and Budget prohibits federal agencies from using persistent cookies — those that aren't automatically deleted right away — unless there is a ‘compelling need.’ A senior official must sign off on any such use, and an agency that uses them must disclose and detail their use in its privacy policy."

But, the National Security Agency* (*psst! I’m not going to the NSA site, but you can: has been illegally using cookies like a high-tech tracking device:

“The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them….Associated Press made inquiries this week, and agency officials acknowledged Wednesday they had made a mistake. "

And, to boot, the NSA cookies don’t expire until 2035!

The practice is illegal, according to Peter Swire, an official who dealt with similar questions for the Clinton administration, and Daniel Brandt, the guy who discovered the NSA cookies:

“Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said clear notice is a must, and ‘vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the NSA policy, are not sufficient.’…Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the NSA cookies, said mistakes happen, 'but in any case, it's illegal. The (guideline) doesn't say anything about doing it accidentally.'"

Commenting on the entire domestic spying scandal, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis) said, “I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for.”

Well, it may not be what we fought for, Sen. Feingold, but that’s the mess we’re in.

Anthony Fazzio


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