Cookie Cutting

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The hidden danger of cookies.
Ok, in addition to your waistline, computer style cookies are ready to invade your personal space.

Case in point …

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 files of that type.

The files, known as cookies, disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week. Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that they had made a mistake.

Nonetheless, the issue raised questions about privacy at the agency, which is on the defensive over reports of an eavesdropping program.

“Considering the surveillance power the N.S.A. 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. “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 N.S.A. site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035.

Don Weber, an agency spokesman, said in a statement yesterday that the use of the so-called persistent cookies resulted from a recent software upgrade.

Normally, Mr. Weber said, the site uses temporary cookies that are automatically deleted when users close their Web browsers, which is legally permissible. But he said the software in use was shipped with the persistent cookies turned on.

“After being tipped to the issue, we immediately disabled the cookies,” Mr. Weber said.

Cookies are widely used at commercial Web sites and can make Internet browsing more convenient by letting sites remember user preferences. For example, visitors would not have to repeatedly enter passwords at sites that require them.

As of late, there has appeared to be a political polarization revolving around the topic of information gathering capabilities and application.

So, is this an example of a nefarious plot to usurp personal rights and establish a “Big Brother-like” world or an honest oversight of software setup?

The stage upon which we define ourselves has been reset by technological innovations and the emphasis needs to be upon redefining boundaries, regardless of political party in office.

Some questions to ponder …

– Is this a partisian political issue?

– Where should the lines be drawn in regards to information gathering?

– Should software companies be held accountable for matters such as insuring personal rights of their users?

Now, to munch on that last tollhouse cookie!