Letter to Congressional Leaders Outlines Risks of Web Tracking Technologies

Washington, June 22, 2000-- Privacy advocates today wrote to congressional leaders urging them to investigate the use of "cookies'' at the web site of the Office of National Drug Control Policy placed by the Doubleclick company. The advocates charged that this activity violates White House privacy policy and may be illegal under the Privacy Act of 1974.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Junkbusters Corp. further asked Congressmen Tauzin and Goodlatte to investigate the tracking practices of other federal agencies.

Monitoring citizens' use of government Web sites raises profound privacy and constitutional concerns,'' said Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of EPIC.

Web advertising technology has given marketers a tremendously powerful surveillance tool that the government is now seeking to adapt for its own purposes. Clearly, law should limit or prohibit this data collection,'' said Jason Catlett, President of Junkbusters Corp.

The privacy groups said that the White House's policy on privacy, favoring self-regulation and the weak "notice and choice'' model of privacy policies, may have contributed to the incident. The White House yesterday endorsed P3P, a technology promoted by industry that the groups criticized in a report yesterday as failing to provide adquate privacy protection for Internet users.

DoubleClick told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that "no personally identifiable data about visitors were given to the government,'' but the privacy groups said stronger assurances were needed. Today they called on Doubleclick to provide a guarantee to the public that it has destroyed all the information it held that could in future link any individual with visits to the Drug site or search queries such as "grow pot" that led to site. The groups pointed out that law enforcement agencies or civil litigants might obtain a subpoena demanding such information. The groups further asked for Doubleclick's privacy auditing firm to publish an opinion attesting to this assertion within thirty days.

The text of the letter follows.


June 22, 2000

Dear Congressman Tauzin and Congressman Goodlatte,

We are writing to you regarding the news that the Office of National Drug Control Policy is using "cookies" placed by the Doubleclick company to track the activities of Internet users who visit a web site created by the ONDCP. We believe that this practice violates the White House privacy policy and implicates important legal safeguards in the Privacy Act of 1974.

We urge you to pursue an investigation of this matter. We further recommend that you investigate the tracking practices of other federal agencies and determine whether they violate the privacy safeguards in the Privacy Act of 1974. We believe it may also be helpful to ask the Doubleclick company to describe its current tracking arrangements with federal agencies. Finally, we wish to note that the P3P policy approach endorsed by the White House yesterday not only fails to address the problem of improper monitoring of citizens' activities, it may in fact have precipitated it.

We appreciate your interest in this matter and would be pleased to assist you.

Sincerely yours,

Marc Rotenberg

Jason Catlett

Executive Director



Junkbusters Corp.

Cc: Congressman Steve Horn, Government Reform Committee Congressman Henry Waxman, Government Reform Committee



* Jason Catlett, President, Junkbusters Corp.

* Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center