Government Rethinks Ban on Tracking Web Site Visitors

August 7, 2009 – In The News

The federal government has long banned the use on agency web sites of cookies, which are commonly utilized on news, shopping and social networking sites to track visitors’ interests and habits. The Office of Management and Budget is reconsidering that policy, however, according to an OMB announcement released July 27.

Changing the government’s policy to allow the use of cookies would be a major shift, said Mark McCreary, noted in the article as an "expert" on Internet law. “There is a huge underlying policy issue here of why…the federal government [needs] to track its citizens for the purpose of using its web sites,” McCreary said. The cookie policies were established to protect people’s privacy, and other governments have taken the same approach, he added.

For example, in 2008, the European Union’s data privacy regulators said IP addresses should be considered personal information. “So one organization has spoken out and said, 'We consider this private information, and we are going to regulate it,'” McCreary said.

It is not clear whether the federal government should use the technology in the same manner as private companies, he added. “It is really important to step back and say, ‘Why does the federal government need to do this? What is the point?’” McCreary said.