Thompson Applauds Final Passage of Legislation to Protect Citizens’ Privacy on Federal Web Sites

WASHINGTON, DC ? Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) today announced that Congress passed legislation to ensure that legislators and the public are made aware of potential privacy violations on federal agency Internet sites. The Thompson amendment in the Treasury-Postal Title (Section 646) of the Consolidated Appropriations Bill would require the Inspector General of each agency to report to Congress on how the agency collects and reviews personal information on its web site. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

“The American people have a right to know what information is being collected about them on federal web sites,” Thompson said. “This bill will ensure that we know about agencies? data collection practices so that we in Congress can make sure that privacy rights of citizens are not being violated.

“The federal government should be setting the standard for privacy protection in cyberspace,” Thompson continued, “But unfortunately, concerns have been raised that some federal agencies may be engaging in information-gathering practices that could only further deepen the public?s distrust of government.”

In June, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was found to have contracted with an Internet ad firm to use “cookies,” information gathering devices, to track users on the ONDCP web site. In response to a request from Thompson, the General Accounting Office (GAO) performed an audit of federal agencies? use of cookies. In October, it was revealed that many federal agencies were still using cookies on their Web sites without disclosing their use. These practices violate the federal government?s privacy policy.

The Thompson privacy amendment, which gives agency Inspectors General 60 days to submit their reports, would expand on the GAO investigation by requiring the Inspectors General to report on all agency information-gathering practices, including data interception systems such as the FBI?s “Carnivore.” A similar amendment, which applied exclusively to agencies funded by the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill, was sponsored by Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA).

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