GAO: Government Sites Playing 'Big Brother'

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When the General Accounting Office (GAO) goes on a fact-finding mission, it often uncovers some pretty strange things.

Based on a new report, the GAO found that security and tracking aspects at many of government's Web sites do not meet stated guidelines, and that 13 agencies are secretly using technology to track the habits of its visitors.

The report, 'Opportunities and Challenges Facing the FirstGov Web Gateway' outlines these accusations. The site most currently in question is the new FirstGov site, a portal to other government sites. The GAO found that FirstGov did not have a security plan in place.

The other agencies in violation stem from a discovery last December. These sites use cookies to determine what pages users visit and what they request. Some of the government's highest-profile sites are included, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Government sites were ordered in June to stop tracking visitors, but the agencies cited at that time have ignored the directive. Many claim the cookies they use help customers fill out applications and help the agency keep track of purchases. Several agencies, however, use the cookies to track Web habits over the years and at least one agency has been found to be providing the information collected on its site to a private company.

The Clinton administration has suggested that all federal agencies should report their methods for using cookies when they submit their budget requests in December, along with a report on how they are attempting to correct any areas of non-compliance.

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