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INTERNET PRIVACY RULES NOT FOLLOWED BY U.S. GOVERNMENT

Source: Excite News

Posted on June 16, 2001

      The U.S. government is doing an inadequate job of complying with its own Internet privacy rules, according to a report Congress released Friday.

      The study, culled from reports of 51 inspectors general, found 300 "cookies" on the Web sites of 23 agencies.

      Cookies are Internet tracking devices that last year were banned, for the most part, from federal Web sites. The small software files can make browsing more convenient by letting sites distinguish user preferences, but they have been criticized for violating privacy because they can track Web surfing.

      The inspectors general also found 42 Web bugs, invisible files that monitor a site's visitors.

      "These reports document a real problem - the violation of Americans' privacy by their own government on the Internet," said Sen. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who released the report with Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

      The two lawmakers sponsored legislation last year requiring agencies to report to Congress on how they collect, share and review personal information on their Web sites.

      Some of the findings have previously been released, but Friday's study was the most comprehensive. Even so, it did not document everything, said Thompson, the ranking Republican on the Governmental Affairs Committee.

      "The numerous violations uncovered by the inspectors general represent just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "The inspectors general could only include a tiny fraction of agency Web sites in their limited reviews."

      The Interior Department was among the agencies singled out in Friday's analysis. Auditors from that agency learned three contractors who maintained Web sites for the department were collecting personal information, such as Social Security numbers, without disclosing how they used that information.

      The report also stated that Web bugs were found on 23 Commerce Department pages, and nearly 75 percent of State Department sites were not in compliance with government rules requiring agencies to post their privacy policies.

      "This shows the current privacy policy is not being followed," said Ari Schwartz, senior policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, which follows privacy issues. "We need stronger laws in this area."

      Several bills dealing with these issues are pending in Congress, including a Thompson measure that would establish a commission charged with examining how federal, state and local governments collect and use personal information.




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