Free Markets, Free People

Aren’t We Glad We Got “Change”?

Via Ace, apparently a 9 year old federal ban is being lifted. Unfortunately it’s not a ban on off-shore drilling or school vouchers being lifted. It’s a ban on the federal government collecting information on you that’s being lifted:

The White House is reversing a nine-year-old policy forbidding the use of tracking cookies on those who visit federal websites.

You know its a problem when even the ACLU is alarmed:

Since 2000, it has been the policy of the federal government not to use such technology. But the OMB is now seeking to change that policy and is considering the use of cookies for tracking web visitors across multiple sessions and storing their unique preferences and surfing habits. Though this is a major shift in policy, the announcement of this program consists of only a single page from the federal register that contains almost no detail.

This is a sea change in government privacy policy,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Without explaining this reversal of policy, the OMB is seeking to allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government website. Until the OMB answers the multitude of questions surrounding this policy shift, we will continue to raise our strenuous objections.”

The use of cookies allows a website to differentiate between users and build a database of each user’s viewing habits and the information they share with the site. Since web surfers frequently share information like their name or email address (if they’ve signed up for a service) or search request terms, the use of cookies frequently allows a user’s identity and web surfing habits to be linked. In addition, websites can allow third parties, such as advertisers, to also place cookies on a user’s computer.

“Americans rely on the information from the federal government to research politics, medical issues and legal requirements. The OMB is now asking to retain the personal and identifiable information we leave behind,” said Christopher Calabrese, Counsel for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project. “No American should have to sacrifice privacy or risk surveillance in order to access free government information. No policy change should be adopted without wide ranging debate including information on the restrictions and uses of cookies as well as impact on privacy.”

No matter how benign the original intent of this change may be, I don’t want government collecting information on anything I do on the internet. And it isn’t a matter of “if you don’t do bad things you shouldn’t care”. I do care regardless of what I do. It is simply none of the government’s business.

As for “benign intent”, who the heck knows who will have access to what is essentially private information and what they will do with it. We have privacy laws in this country which restricts government from collecting private information. I believe this to be in violation of the intent of those laws. And, for once, I’m in agreement with the ACLU – “No policy change should be adopted.” I’ll go one further though – “No policy change should be adopted, period. No “debate” necessary.”


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6 Responses to Aren’t We Glad We Got “Change”?

  • And here is something else I can agree with the ACLU on

  • Quelle surprise.  I can hardly wait for Herr Dockor Erb’s reply telling us he loves chocolate chip cookies and so should we 😉

  • I find the information in this post fishy. I’m going to have to report you to the Administration(tm).

  • Change?  More like shortchanged.

  • I can’t say I’m too worried about this. Cookies are just anonymous trackers. Ordinary websites like Yahoo, Amazon, et al, only know you by the cookie they place and modify. Now, it’s possible that the the federal government here, the one entity on the planet with the resources to track and the power to force ISPs to reveal who was using a particular IP at a certain time, could match you to a cookie. However, this is a no-worry for two reasons:
    1. Cookies are easily blocked. If you use Firefox, you can set up a whitelist for cookies (block all cookies except for those domains you approve). If you prefer Internet Explorer, set it to block all cookies, which does not apply to websites in your Trusted Sites zone. (In fact, in Internet Explorer it’s best to turn off all Java and JavaScript for your Internet Zone, as a matter of security, and add trustworthy websites to Trusted Sites.)
    2. If the feds want to track anyone, it’s already a piece of cake to do that via web server logs Tracking by cookies is superfluous.
    There’s an argument against the principle of cookies, but as a matter of practicality, it’s easily defeatable.