OMB seeks right recipe for web cookie policy

After more than 9 years, the Office of Management and Budget is about to revise its original policy banning the use of web cookies, or tracking software, on fed...

By Max Cacas

The Office of Management and Budget is putting the call out for public comments on a long-awaited revision of federal policy on Web tracking technologies, more popularly known as cookies.

In a document obtained by Federal News Radio, OMB, in today’s Federal Register, is expected to outline proposals to substantially change policy originally dictated by a June 2000 OMB memorandum. That memorandum specifically prohibits use of Web tracking tools unless specifically approved by an agency official, and only under compelling need.

Cookies have become a staple of most commercial, private-sector Web sites since the issuance of that memo, because they let Web sites adapt to user preferences, thus allowing for a more user-friendly experience. In addition, cookies let Web sites better track and manage what users expect from those sites.

Beth Noveck, deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House, told Federal News Radio during a conference call last Friday that, “The purpose of the review is to consider a new policy that’s going to help protect privacy of people who visit federal websites, and at the same time, make websites more friendly, provide better customer service, and provide for enhanced web analytics.”

OMB is considering allowing the use of cookies as long as agencies:

  • Adhere to existing laws and policies on data collection, including privacy protection;
  • Post clear notice on the use of cookies on the site;
  • Provide a clear means for users to opt-out of being tracked;
  • Do not discriminate against those who do choose to opt-out.

OMB is also detailing a three-tiered approach to determine which Web tracking technologies are appropriate for federal sites. The approach would include single sessions cookies, and multi-session cookies for both Web analytics or persistent identifiers.

Ari Schwartz, vice president with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington told Federal News Radio that the subject of cookies for federal websites has already been the subject of debate between, “security officers, privacy officers, and new media managers. And that debate is expeced to continue.” Schwartz and the CDT, along with a number of other ‘good government’ groups, issued transition recommendations shortly after last November’s election, suggesting that one of the first conditions that needed to be addressed and dealt with is the use of cookies on federal sites.

Interested parties will have two weeks from the publication in the Federal Register to submit comments. Noveck says Monday, August 10th is the deadline for submitting public feedback.

On the Web:
Federal News Radio: OMB seeks public comment on proposed revision of web tracking policy (PDF document)

Federal News Radio: Decade-old cookie policy under review

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