Visitors to the NSA’s website may have received more than just information about the agency.  It seems that computer files or cookies were being placed on visitor’s computers.  Cookies are used to track web surfing.  Such placement is illegal.

NYT Link

By The Associated Press 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.

So it was only a mistake.  No problem.  Well, how about this, from the introduction to the NSA from the agency’s own site:

NSA Link

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is America’s cryptologic organization. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. government information systems and produce foreign signals intelligence information. A high technology organization, NSA is on the frontiers of communications and data processing. It is also one of the most important centers of foreign language analysis and research within the government.

Wow, even as an attorney I’m impressed by that verbiage. But being so overwhelmingly important, shouldn’t the agency have had some idea that they were placing upon unsuspecting visitors a cookie with a lifespan lasting until 2035!!!

Until Tuesday, the N.S.A. site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035.

These so-called persistent cookies were made illegal in 2003 but apparently the NSA didn’t get the memo.  (So much beauracracy, so little time.)  

In a 2003 memorandum, the Office of Management and Budget at the White House prohibited federal agencies from using persistent cookies – those that are not automatically deleted right away – unless there is a “compelling need.”

A senior official must sign off on any such use, and an agency that uses them must disclose and detail their use in its privacy policy.

Oh wait, guidelines on such cookies actually go back to 2000, but maybe the NSA didn’t get that memo either.

The government first issued strict rules on cookies in 2000 after disclosures that the White House drug policy office had used them to track computer users viewing its online antidrug advertising. Even a year later, a Congressional study found 300 cookies still on the Web sites of 23 agencies.

But if you still aren’t convinced that the NSA has our best interests at heart, take a look at the NSA kid’s page. (Yes, you read that right.)

NSA kid’s page

And an excerpt from said page:

You can also learn about the National Security Agency/Central Security Service – they’re America’s real codemakers and codebreakers. Our Nation’s leaders and warfighters count on the technology and information they get from NSA/CSS to get their jobs done. Without NSA/CSS, they wouldn’t be able to talk to one another without the bad guys listening and they wouldn’t be able to figure out what the bad guys were planning.

So who are the bad guys here?  

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