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EFF, CDT Propose Nuanced Alternative to Government Cookie Ban

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 12 2009

In a report released today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology are advancing the idea that the federal government's near-blanket ban on persistent cookies -- imposed by OMB back in 2000 after the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was found to be tracking web visitors -- is too absolute. (Via Shaun Dakin) Without a way of compiling metrics on web use, the government can't intelligently measure whether what they're doing online is worth the effort. So EFF and CDT are proposing more nuanced limitations on the use of cookies and other tracking tools by Uncle Sam:

  • Use data only for measurement Data collected for Web measurement should only be used for that purpose. Agencies should avoid outsourcing data collection to commercial partners.
  • Prominently disclose Federal agencies using Web measurement tools on their sites should provide disclosures in their privacy policies about the tools.
  • Offer choice Site visitors should be offered a choice about having their data collected for cross‑session measurement. The choice mechanism and the visitor’s choice status should be clearly visible on every page of the agency site.
  • Limit data retention The individual‑level data collected for measurement purposes should be retained for no more than 90 days. The retention time frames should be disclosed, correlated to the purpose for which the data was collected, enforced through technology, and explicitly stated in commercial partner contracts.
  • Limit cross‑session measurement Federal agencies should only use cross‑session measurement when single‑session measurement cannot be used to obtain the same metric.
  • Obtain third‑party verification Agencies engaged in Web measurement and their partners should have their privacy compliance procedures regularly verified by their Inspectors General or a designated independent third party.

The full report is here.