Skip to comments.NSA Web Site Places 'Cookies' on Computers
Posted on 12/29/2005 8:00:16 AM PST by ShadowAce
NEW YORK (AP) - The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them.
These files, known as "cookies," disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week, and agency officials acknowledged Wednesday they had made a mistake. Nonetheless, the issue raises questions about privacy at a spy agency already on the defensive amid reports of a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States.
"Considering the surveillance power the NSA has, cookies are not exactly a major concern," said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "But it does show a general lack of understanding about privacy rules when they are not even following the government's very basic rules for Web privacy."
Until Tuesday, the NSA site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035 - likely beyond the life of any computer in use today.
Don Weber, an NSA spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday that the cookie use resulted from a recent software upgrade. Normally, the site uses temporary, permissible cookies that are automatically deleted when users close their Web browsers, he said, but the software in use shipped with persistent cookies already on.
"After being tipped to the issue, we immediately disabled the cookies," he said.
Cookies are widely used at commercial Web sites and can make Internet browsing more convenient by letting sites remember user preferences. For instance, visitors would not have to repeatedly enter passwords at sites that require them.
But privacy advocates complain that cookies can also track Web surfing, even if no personal information is actually collected.
In a 2003 memo, the White House's Office of Management and Budget prohibits federal agencies from using persistent cookies - those that aren't automatically deleted right away - unless there is a "compelling need."
Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said clear notice is a must, and 'vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the NSA policy, are not sufficient."
Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the NSA cookies, said mistakes happen, "but in any case, it's illegal. The (guideline) doesn't say anything about doing it accidentally."
The Bush administration has come under fire recently over reports it authorized NSA to secretly spy on e-mail and phone calls without court orders.
Since The New York Times disclosed the domestic spying program earlier this month, President Bush has stressed that his executive order allowing the eavesdropping was limited to people with known links to al-Qaida.
But on its Web site Friday, the Times reported that the NSA, with help from American telecommunications companies, obtained broader access to streams of domestic and international communications.
The NSA's cookie use is unrelated, and Weber said it was strictly to improve the surfing experience "and not to collect personal user data."
Richard M. Smith, a security consultant in Cambridge, Mass., questions whether persistent cookies would even be of much use to the NSA. They are great for news and other sites with repeat visitors, he said, but the NSA's site does not appear to have enough fresh content to warrant more than occasional visits.
The government first issued strict rules on cookies in 2000 after disclosures that the White House drug policy office had used the technology to track computer users viewing its online anti-drug advertising. Even a year later, a congressional study found 300 cookies still on the Web sites of 23 agencies.
In 2002, the CIA removed cookies it had inadvertently placed at one of its sites after Brandt called it to the agency's attention.
If you hate it, don't go or get your security programs at work. It doesn't take but several steps to disable it. This shows how dumb the complaining liberals are. Cookies... let the cookie monster eat 'em.
This is very good news.......our security services need more 'cookie' factories......maybe they can make 'goodle' research a giant 'cookie' network....
Britain,....China and India.... Needs More Work.....
....and don't forget,....."Narnia" is surely the favorite false profit work of the Billy-goat Clintons and their Homo 'DNC'....support the 'DNC' filosophies and see 'their' Hollywood-Homo-Saypean politics....
/Bill Hybulls and Sick Warren,......not to forget Robert Schiller and other 'Narnia' gnostic-false-christian 'occults'...
The 'DNC' is C.S. Lewis' real KINGDOM.....
OH, NO! The NSA is putting COOKIES on computers that visit their WEBSITE!
There's a high crime and misdemeanor if I ever heard of one!
Big deal over nothing. Yes, government policy says not to do it, but anyone who has ever done server config knows that things can get turned back on automatically, especially in the Microsoft world. Mistakes happen, they fixed it. Forget it.
You wonder if they realize how stupid they will sound when the truth about session cookies is made known. Still, there will be some out there whose tin foil hats will be vibraing in harmonic resonance at this story...
They cant track that cookie when you are surfing away from their site. They cant even read it when you are away and the sites you visit cant be applied to any cookie outside the domain you are browsing.
Can we AT LEAST get some technical expertise to report on this type of stuff????
Vanilla wafer with sprinkles ....Ping.
Great now if my computer would only give me some fresh cold milk...that would be utterly great...
Journalists have the IQ of a rock.
I've visited the NSA's web site before.
Interesting site - especially the historical section where they talk about Enigma, Venona, etc.
Here's the site:
But there's nothing there that could be considered secret or sensitive.
Agreed. I thought I'd post it because it's getting radio air time locally. I thought it was funny when I heard it on the radio.
I already wrote to the author of the article ANICK JESDANUN and told him what an idiot he is .Liberals whining about nothing again
Good grief! Every email you get places cookies on your computer - and if you're so stupid you don't know how to erase them on a daily basis - then you deserve to be spied on!
Web browsers place cookies on a computer, not email.
"Journalists have the IQ of a rock."
No argument with that...lol
I'm going to run my Spybot Search & Destroy and AdWare SE, get rid of all 'malicious cookies' (sarcasm), go to a few different sites like AP, NY Times, Whitehouse, the NSA - run them again and see what gives.
Be back in a few......
What would the Christmas season be without some cookies ........... and milk?
Santa Claus is deeply saddened.
My ISP wanted to put on cookiesSo it's okay for newspapers and news organizations like AP to put tracking cookies on your 'puter but it's a crime when NSA did?
Drudge, puts on cookies
NY TIMES wanted to put on cookies.
Chicago Tribune - cookies
AP.org - COOKIES
Whitehouse - NO COOKIES
Thomas - Ditto
NSA - Same, NO Cookies now.
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