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In a bizarre case in a federal court, the secrecy of cookie files has become an issue. The case concerns the US Freedom of Information Act right for the public to access government-held information. Some 80 miles east of Nashville, Tennessee, Geoffrey Davidian, who produces an online newsletter called The Putnam Pit, has sued the City of Cookeville after it refused him the right to examine cookie files on the City's PCs. Davidian's purpose, he says, is to find out whether city employees had been accessing non-work-related sites (ie. porn) at local taxpayers' expense. The City has just won the first round, since the federal judge granted a summary judgement against Davidian, but he says he will appeal because his First Amendment rights have been violated. The wider issue is whether cookie files, which record details of some Web sites visited and any user preferences or search patterns stored there, should be treated like itemised phone bills, which are in the public domain at all levels of government in Tennessee. So far this has not been resolved in the courts, but if it were, it presents a potent weapon. The case serves to draw attention to other files that could be important legally. Such a list would include swap files, any list of Web sites visited, and bookmarks. It is not unknown for a hard disk to be dumped around the time of an employee leaving, or as a random check of employee loyalty. It's an issue that is not going to go away. Oh yes, the cookies are in cookies.txt... ® Click for more stories

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