Idaho State Journal
Idaho State Journal

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Idaho State Journal
Copyright © 2000

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Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a Jackson, Wyo.-based watchdog group, is accusing the INEEL of spying on visitors to its Internet site.

INEEL closes Web site
Protesters say nuclear agency is tracking activity over Internet

By Anne Minard
Thursday, November 02, 2000
Journal Writer

POCATELLO - Officials at Idaho's nuclear site shut down their Internet pages temporarily Tuesday, following allegations that they have been spying on the public.
Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a Jackson, Wyo.-based nuclear watchdog group, is accusing officials at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory of implanting small data files called "cookies" on the computers of those who visit the INEEL Internet site. They announced their suspicions in a recent press release.
"This is another example of a well-established pattern of dirty tricks coming from INEEL," said KYNF board member Tom Patricelli. "They set up a Web site to give the appearance of openness and cooperation. What they don't say is they're secretly monitoring who visits their site. It's not only a violation of law, it's an abuse of public trust," he said.
But Nick Nichols, the INEEL media relations manager, denies any foul play.
"The INEEL did not gather any personal information or profile any Web users. That's absolutely untrue, and we deny categorically that we've ever used cookies for that purpose," he said.
Nichols said the INEEL uses - and will continue to use - "session cookies," which are not prohibited under federal rules. Session cookies appear temporarily and are "strictly to help the Web site visitor navigate through the site," he said.
Nichols said the function that allows an Internet user to return to a previous page by clicking a "back" button is an example of what a session cookie does.
"They are extremely common practice in Internet Web sites," he said, citing ABCnews.com, CNN.com, discovery.com, foxnews.com, Greenpeace.org, and Yahoo.com as examples.
The federal Office of Management and Budget issued a policy in June that prevents the use of "persistent" cookies, which are stored on a user's computer.
At first, Nichols said the INEEL Internet site was shut down for about an hour Tuesday, while one persistent cookie was removed.
"Further investigation revealed we did not have a persistent cookie on our system. Ours were all of the session variety," he said later.
Nichols said the remaining cookies are compliant with federal privacy rules.

Anne Minard covers science and the environment for the Journal. She can be reached at 239-3168 or by e-mail at aminard@journalnet.com.