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Home > Privacy and Government > Privacy Law Governing the Government Sector > U.S. Federal Government Policies > Office of Management and Budget "Cookie" Policy

Office of Management and Budget "Cookie" Policy

Government privacy policies should be more restrictive than those governing the private sector. If a private sector website displeases consumers in any way, including privacy practices, consumers can use other resources. This is not true of the relationship between citizens and governments. Restrictive policies on government information collections are justified.

Citizens can control whether they allow cookies to be set on their computers, however. Prohibiting federal government websites from using cookies needlessly defends citizens from a software device they have full power to control themselves. Because of their monopoly control of government information and services, notice of cookies is appropriate on government websites that use them, but a blanket prohibition on cookies would likely render already complicated federal websites more difficult to navigate and use than necessary.

If cookies are indeed unacceptable for federal websites, the OMB's no-cookie policy provides illusory protection. Its broad exceptions leave power in the hands of federal administrators to decide whether cookies will be used or not, and there is no apparent enforcement against the administrator or agency that uses cookies contrary to the policy. Sure enough, within months of the policy being put into effect, it was revealed that federal Web sites do not comply with it.

The OMB's cookie policy also applied the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. As Privcilla revealed in a special report, the White House Web site itself did not follow this policy at the time.


Internet Privacy: Federal Agency Use of Cookies, General Accounting Office (October 20, 2000)

How Cookie-Gate Crumbles by Solveig Singleton, Cato Institute (July 11, 2000)

OMB Memorandum No. M-00-13 by Jack Lew, Director (June 22, 2000)

Comments? (Subject: FederalCookies)

[updated 09/18/01]

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