Lawmakers Say Government Web Sites Offer Inadequate Privacy

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Three hundred persistent cookies, 42 Web bugs and 27 privacy policy violations suggest that U.S. government agencies are inadequately protecting the privacy of visitors to government Web sites, according to a government report that compiled privacy policy compliance data from 51 inspectors general.


Fred Thompson, R-TN, a ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-WA, issued the report. Inspectors general for all government agencies compiled the data.


Judging from the results, it appears that marketers are not the only ones missing the boat on Internet privacy.


"These reports document a real problem -- the violation of Americans' privacy by their own government on the Internet," Inslee said in a statement. "Solving the Internet privacy problem is not just a government issue; however, we must clean Uncle Sam's house, in addition to demanding high industry standards."


Inslee said he is working with other lawmakers to address privacy concerns and possible solutions, including legislation.


The report included examples of privacy violations by government agencies.


For instance, one inspector general found that 116 of 206 State Department Web sites did not have privacy policies at all.


Another inspector general reported that the Department of Commerce was using persistent cookies on 12 of its sites -- including eight third-party cookies. Also, 18 of 23 Commerce Department privacy statements that the inspector general reviewed did not comply with department policy.


At least two agencies were found to be in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires Web sites that collect information from children younger than 13 to obtain parental consent and to post privacy policies. The report said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services were in violation of the act.


The inspector general reports were mandated in October by the Thompson-Inslee amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2000. The amendment requires each government agency's inspector general to report to Congress on how the agency handles personal information on its Web site.


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