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Federal Departments Evade Tracking Technology Policy

Cookies2Some federal departments have found a loophole in a policy that prohibits government websites from tracking online visitor activity, according to NextGov.

In 2000, the Office of Management and Budget issued a federal policy banning the use of cookies, which collect data on a visitor’s use of the site to provide more personal interaction. The policy was established to protect personal privacy, but critics of the ban say it prevents the government from providing better online experiences to the public.

To get around the ban, agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health have used a provision in the cookie policy that allows the use of cookies if there is a “compelling need.” OMB is not required to sign off on the waivers, nor are agencies required to tell OMB if managers have granted waivers. According to a 2003 revision to the cookie policy, agencies have to the use of tracking technology to OMB, and identify the circumstances, safeguards and approving official.

Cookies can be used for various purposes: NASA uses them to observe where people navigate on the site, collect aggregate search results and follow user clicks to recommend sites to other visitors, and the NIH’s automatically issued surveys that rely on cookies record the visitor was given the chance to answer questions.

According to NextGov, General Administration Services earlier this year approved a waiver for a government-wide Web tool to use cookies to speed the sign-in process for those who want to participate in online debates about open government. Departments now are using the application, called IdeaScale, to seek recommendations for plans due April 7 that will incorporate the principles of public participation, agency transparency and private sector collaboration into government’s everyday operations.

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