Wednesday, August 12, 2009

OBAMA PROPOSING TO END BAN ON CYBERSPYING ON VISITORS TO GOVERNMENT WEB SITES

Washington Post - The Obama administration is proposing to scale back a long-standing ban on tracking how people use government Internet sites with "cookies" and other technologies, raising alarms among privacy groups.

A two-week public comment period ended Monday on a proposal by the White House Office of Management and Budget to end a ban on federal Internet sites using such technologies and replace it with other privacy safeguards. The current prohibition, in place since 2000, can be waived if an agency head cites a "compelling need.". . .

Some privacy groups say the proposal amounts to a "massive" and unexplained shift in government policy. American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Michael Macleod-Ball said the move could "allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government website."

Even groups that support updating the policy question whether the administration is seeking changes at the request of private companies, such as online search giant Google, as the industry's economic clout and influence in Washington have grown rapidly.

Two prominent technology policy advocacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Electronic Frontier Foundation, cited the terms of a Feb. 19 contract with Google, in which a unnamed federal agency explicitly carved out an exemption from the ban so that the agency could use Google's YouTube video player. . .

Cindy Cohn, legal director for Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the contract "troubling."

"It appears that these companies are forcing the government to lower the privacy protections that the government had promised the American people," Cohn said. "The government should be requiring companies to raise the level of privacy protection if they want government contracts."

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