OMB to agencies: Get your hands out of the Web cookie jar

OMB to agencies: Get your hands out of the Web cookie jar

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

JUNE 23—Agencies must immediately review their Web site privacy policies, the Office of Management and Budget ordered this week.

The memorandum to agency chiefs followed reports that the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy was collecting data on visitors to its site using Web cookies.

Cookies are small data packages that sites put on a user's PC. They can be used to store information such as a password to a Web site, but they can also be used to gather information about users and to track how users move through a site.

In the memo, OMB Director Jacob J. Lew said that in most cases agencies should not use cookies. He said agencies would have to demonstrate a 'compelling need' to gather such data and would have to publicly disclose how any collected personal information would be safeguarded. Furthermore, use of cookies by an agency would require the approval of that agency's chief.

The White House has ordered the drug policy office to stop using cookies. The office had been using cookies through advertising sold by an Internet ad company.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) criticized the drug policy office. 'The government should not be in the business of cybersnooping,' he said. 'These sites ought to be an essential link for citizens who want to become more involved in our government.'

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