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­.s. Web-Tracking Plan Stirs Privacy Fears

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The White House is proposing to soften a long-existing prohibition on tracking how users peruse U.S. government Web sites with cookies and other methods, inciting suspicion among privacy advocates.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has proposed replacing a ban on using cookies and other technologies on government sites and replacing it with new standards.

Supporters of the proposal say social networking and other services have transformed the way users share knowledge, and White House officials say those services can be used to enhance transparency and public participation in the government.

Some privacy advocates say the change represents a fundamental and inexplicable shift in federal policy. The American Civil Liberties Union's Michael Macleod-Ball says the proposal could "allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government Web site."

Even those in favor of revising the policy question whether the Obama administration is pursuing these changes at the behest of private companies, as the sector's clout in Washington has expanded significantly.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center cite the language of a February contract with Google, in which a government agency specifically exempted the company so that it could access Google's YouTube site.

Electronic Frontier Foundation legal advocate Cindy Cohn calls the agreement troubling. "It appears that these companies are forcing the government to lower the privacy protections that the government had promised the American people," Cohn says. "The government should be requiring companies to raise the level of privacy protection if they want government contracts."

From Washington Post
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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