Uncle Sam's Cookie is Watching You

Uncle Sam's Cookie is Watching You
Posted by FoM on July 03, 2000 at 08:11:35 PT
By Eric E. Sterling
Source: Christian Science Monitor
The Scripps Howard News Service revealed last month that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was planting Internet surveillance codes, called "cookies," in the computers of people who visited their drug-education Web sites. People searching the Internet for drug-related information are steered to these Web sites by banner ads, paid for with tax dollars, appearing whenever certain keywords are used in searches. 
Internet privacy advocates, upon learning of the cookie practice - which the White House quickly clarified as a violation of its own privacy policies - were outraged. But the problems with this practice are much worse. An Internet cookie is a computer instruction that reports back to the computer system that placed it information about the identity and Internet activities of the computer that has had the cookie implanted. Logging on to a Web site, or even viewing an online ad, can load a cookie onto a computer hard drive. The information tracked can include one's e-mail address, Internet service provider, the unique identifier of a person's computer, the types of computer software used, and the Internet searches a person conducts. Some of this data can be analyzed to indicate where a computer user lives or works. During the 1980s, I worked for Congress and helped write the 1988 legislation creating the ONDCP. The goal was to improve the coordination of federal antidrug efforts - and ONDCP overwhelmingly was given a law-enforcement mission. Each year, it directs hundreds of millions of dollars toward intelligence gathering and law enforcement through its law-enforcement task forces that blanket the nation. For the drug czar's office to place secret surveillance codes into the computers of Americans is dangerous and counter-productive for three reasons: *Surveillance of this kind by a federal law-enforcement agency is probably unlawful and unconstitutional. Congress hasn't authorized the White House to plant surveillance technology in Americans' computers. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment guarantees we are secure in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches," and that searches are only authorized by judges' warrants for probable cause specifically describing the place to be searched. It's clear our computer files are "effects," which are protected. Millions of people use the Internet daily to contact their banks, pay bills, monitor investments, and make the most private, sensitive financial transactions. Our use of the Internet is like going to a file cabinet for our private papers. Millions of people keep their personal files and correspondence in computers maintained by Internet service providers like AOL. The files are remote from home or office and are only accessed by the Internet, but potentially tracked by the ONDCP cookie. ONDCP is actually financing research on how to do more surveillance using the Internet and databases built on Web traffic. *This practice threatens political speech and debate. Americans are questioning national drug policy. Two governors - Gary Johnson (R) of New Mexico and Jesse Ventura (Reform) of Minnesota - suggest some kind of legalization and regulation of drugs and drug use may be better strategies than our current ineffective prohibition approach. Citizens naturally turn to Internet search engines and go to government Web sites to learn more about these important issues. They use the Internet like their private library, calling up "bookmarked" or favorite Web sites like they take books from a shelf. When the government conducts clandestine surveillance of people looking for information about drug issues, it's intimidating. It dangerously chills the opportunity for free, open debate, which is fundamental to democracy and the making of sound public policy. *As a matter of drug policy, this is counter-productive. People who looking for information about "addiction," "cocaine," "marijuana," etc. are often looking for help. Many of the people we most need to educate about drug dangers are drug users, their family members, and friends. When the public worries that by seeking information about drug addiction, private information is captured secretly, we inevitably discourage those who most need this potentially life-saving information. The ONDCP has promised to terminate the practice. But, it is disturbing evidence that the drug czar and his staff don't have a clear idea of the appropriate limits on their powers. This was also seen earlier this year when ONDCP's clandestine practice of offering "advertising credits" to TV networks and news magazines in exchange for censoring scripts or running favorable stories was revealed. It doesn't seem to appreciate the appropriate relation between the government of a democracy and the people who constitute that democracy. While the cookie episode is a reminder of the growing loss of privacy in the Information Age, it's also yet another warning of how antidrug-establishment zealotry continues to threaten law-abiding citizens by curtailing their freedoms. Millions of citizens are routinely tested for drugs they never use. Now they're under surveillance for using drug words in Internet searches. *Eric E. Sterling, president of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, from 1979 to 1989, was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee where he was principally responsible for antidrug legislation. Published: July 3, 2000© Copyright 2000 The Christian Science Publishing Society. Related Articles & Web Site:Criminal Justice Policy Foundation' Hands Caught in Cookie Jar House on Cookies: Doh! Web Site Tracks Visitors House Drug Office Tracks Computer Visitors 
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on July 04, 2000 at 22:42:48 PT
Good Comments Everyone!
Hi Everyone,Just dropping in to say good comments! Thank you Mitchell for contributing to CannabisNews. I like your style. We have very unique people that post here and I like that a lot. I always learn something new each time I read the comments! I really mind those banners from ONDCP following me around all the time. They make some of them look very good though. Just like they make some really good commercial for mind altering drugs. I think we should be able to have banner time on search tools too. I don't mean me, I mean MapInc. NORML, DRCNet or an organization like them.Peace, FoM!
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Comment #5 posted by Mitchell on July 04, 2000 at 16:45:59 PT:
Search Engines Liberated (For Now)
SEARCH ENGINES LIBERATEDWhen the story broke about the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP's) use of cookies on their banner ads, we at (all three of us) applauded the government’s decision to remove them from their ads and websites. Actually, only two of us applauded. Our other learned colleague said: "Cookies are one thing, but what bothers me is that everytime you plug the word ‘marijuana’ into some search engines you get hit by a message from the ONDCP. The government doesn’t need to track individuals with cookies when they can get away with oppressing everyone."Indeed, cookie or no cookie, everyone typing in "marijuana reform" or "medical marijuana" saw a banner ad from the ONDCP above their results on some search engines. The most egregious example was Northern Light. On that search engine, even queries put into the "news search" section, which is limited to recent stories from the wire services and other mainstream sources, elicited the unsolicited ONDCP banner ads when the term marijuana was included in the search. Meanwhile, keywords for other more dangerous drugs and lifestyle choices brought about no such "helpful" government messages. While the mainstream media focused on the cookie issue, we at questioned the propriety of the government buying up keywords on the Internet that pertain to controversial issues. NORML also weighed in with a press release on the matter. As reported on, entering "National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws" generated a banner ad from ONDCP on Norther Light.It’s hard for common sense and fairness to prevail in the face of such willful institutional power. But prevail it will. The ONDCP for now has abandoned its search engine keyword squatting at least for the time being. Have they simply pulled their banners while they retool? Are they lying low, or have they given up this odious marketing strategy entirely? Even among 9 to 12 year olds the number of those using drugs doubled in the 90’s, according to Georgia Senator Paul Covedell on a recent broadcast of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. If enforcement cannot protect young children from drugs, how can it possibly have any effect on adults? So far, the ONDCP’s propaganda machine has worked only to the extent that it musters support from a sufficient number of taxpayers to perpetuate itself. Beyond that the drug war's only actual effect has been to make life even more difficult for the poor and minorities, while illegal drug use by the privileged, like Al Gore and George Bush, remains a rite of passage, free of legal consequences.Mitchell Greentower
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on July 04, 2000 at 01:52:33 PT
 I couldnt resist adding more to my brash,and somewhat ill-informed writings. I think the "cookies"of today,like the ones in this article,are highly developed,nasty little items,,,that have a huge potential for abuse,and covert surveillance. These cookies are bad,but when it comes to the shifty,sneaky,uncle sam,,sniffin' and snoopin' around our computers,,,,cookies are effective,and insidious,,but I dont think setting your software to "do not accept any",or,"reject all cookies",,does much good against government snoops... I think if you have a connection to the internet,and you surf into a place that makes big brothers henchmen curious,,you can reject and send back all the oreos,and macaroons you want,as long as you are connected to the site,,they have the technology voyeuristicly rape your HD........dddd 
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Comment #3 posted by dddd on July 03, 2000 at 17:59:30 PT
cookie question
DCP,,,,Perhaps you,or anyone else can answer this question; Are these cookies,the only way someone can intrude on your computer?(not including e-mail).dddd
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Comment #2 posted by DCP on July 03, 2000 at 14:00:42 PT:
More on Cookies
If you want to eliminate all cookies frombeing placed on your computer, and you are running Windows,click Start, Settings, and Control Panel and Internet. Click onAdvanced and scroll down to Cookies. Click on Disable allCookie Use. This will end the placing of Cookies on yourcomputer. DCP 
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on July 03, 2000 at 09:49:44 PT:
I hate to say this, but
I TOLD YOU SO!'An Internet cookie is a computer instruction that reports back to the computer system that placed it information about the identity and Internet activities of thecomputer that has had the cookie implanted. Logging on to a Web site, or even viewing an online ad, can load a cookie onto a computer hard drive. The informationtracked can include one's e-mail address, Internet service provider, the unique identifier of a person's computer, the types of computer software used, and theInternet searches a person conducts. Some of this data can be analyzed to indicate where a computer user lives or works.'The technology has existed for over 20 years to track your voice across phone lines. To tap your phones via a system called parallel induction developed by those staunch supporters of civil liberties, the NSA. The same wonderful folks who want to bug every phone in America with a Clipper Chip. Now, they can not only track your whereabouts via cookies, they can rifle your hard drive like any dedicated hacker. They can find where you live. Where you work. Who you send email to. Who you chat with. There was never any such thing as total internet anonymity. Why? Because - as Al Gore likes to remind the gullible - the Internet was derived from DARPA, which is practically the communication apparatus of the military/industrial (and its' equally illegitimate daughter, the prison/industrial) complex 
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