Report: Fed agencies obtain Web cookie waivers

Some federal agencies will begin tracking visitors to their websites, perhaps signaling the end of a nearly 10-year ban on 'persistent cookies' that many have lambasted as outdated.

A handful of departments have recently sought waivers to begin using those online tools, which essentially allow webmasters to tune viewers' Web browsing experiences based on portions of the website they have previously visited.

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Persistent cookies are nearly ubiquitous in the private sphere, as they allow web sites to remember user preferences without simultaneously capturing their sensitive, identifiable information. But the Office of Management and Budget issued a policy memorandum in 2000 that outlawed the practice, citing privacy as its chief concern.

However, agencies have routinely sought waivers to that policy, according to NextGov, which first discovered the practice was gaining more widespread federal acceptance. A handful of agencies already have them -- including NASA, which uses the cookies to shield users from constant prompts to grade the website.

The General Services Administration later granted a universal cookie waiver to agencies accepting input on their open government plans -- that's how users are able to log into one government website and share their opinions across agencies.

Still, those changes complement the White House's larger push to rewrite the persistent cookie policy altogether. Nextgov reports that the Obama administration has recently approached the OMB about revising its long-standing cookie rules, but it is still unclear when those changes might enter into effect.