'Cookie' Amendment Gains Ground in U.S. House

FRAMINGHAM (07/21/2000) - The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday night passed an amendment that forces federal agencies to show how they collect personal data from the Internet.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington, would advise visitors to federal Web sites that their personal data is being collected and demonstrate how that is done.

The amendment would apply to the U.S. Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the Postal Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service and the executive office of the president.

Specifically, the inspector general of each agency would have to present a report to Congress explaining how that agency tracks Web site visitors.

"If the federal government is collecting [information] about our personal habits, we have a right to know about it so we can stop any inappropriate invasion of privacy," Inslee said. Inslee noted reports that the Office of National Drug Control Policy had placed cookies on sites that would allow tracking of personal information and identify how people surf or travel through the Internet.

Privacy advocates charged that tracking a user's movements and other personal information within a site without the user's knowledge could be violation of their privacy rights.

On a voice vote, the amendment was tacked on to a Treasury Department appropriations bill. The main bill is on the House floor Friday for a vote.

A recent White House directive also outlined privacy considerations. However, neither the bill nor the new White House policy address some of the most serious privacy concerns.

Privacy advocates who criticized the FBI's Carnivore surveillance system said Monday's announcement by the White House did little to temper alarm over recent revelations about the new technology, which has the ability to monitor all of an Internet service provider's network traffic.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center last week filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking all records related to Carnivore, as well as copies of the source and object code that make up the system.

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