Legal & Policy Challenges

Transparency for Government, Privacy for Citizens

Transparency should empower citizens to expose the inner workings of government, not empower the government to spy on its citizens. Several widely-used Internet technologies allow companies to track users as they surf the Web for the purpose of serving personalized, relevant advertisements. Even though many online services and applications may appear "free," users actually support these services by permitting providers to collect, store, and monetize their personal information.

 

On government sites, the OMB determined in 2003 that tracking and profiling visitors could endanger civil liberties, and strictly limited these practices. The government remains interested in data-mining information about citizens' online activities. In 2005, for instance, the Department of Justice served Google with a subpoena for "all queries that have been entered on your company's search engine" during a specified period of time. The company fought this subpoena, however, a number of telecommunications companies granted the government unprecedented access to traffic on their networks.

 

As the administration integrates private technologies, such as YouTube videos, into transparency Web sites, companies are using this opportunity to place tracking files onto visitors' computers. No taxpayer should be forced to submit to any form of tracking, merely for visiting a government site and accessing public information. Any files placed on a user's computer must expire at the end of a session, and should not be permitted to indefinitely track which sites that user visits on the Internet.

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Idea No. 765