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ICO: Managed to comply with Cookies Law? Go help the other kids

Commish tells gov websites to learn as they go and share what they discover

Application security programs and practises

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) wants public sector bodies that have made their websites comply with EU cookie regulations to share their knowledge with others.

"We are seeing elements of good practice and what we hope is that, as those get implemented, it will be much easier for those who are not ready to see which path they need to take," David Evans, a senior policy manager at the ICO, told Guardian Government Computing.

An EU directive setting out new rules on privacy and security with regard to cookies came into force on 26 May 2011. The ICO set the same date this year (this coming Saturday) as the deadline after which it would begin taking action against those who don't comply.

The ICO does not know how many public sector websites have made the necessary changes, but expects that they should all be working towards compliance by now.

Evans said the ICO would be concerned if it found organisations were not working towards compliance, but said it would also be worried if they were rushing into being compliant by the end of the month without adequate testing.

"And one of the issues here is that if an organisation introduces a change to comply with the cookies rule which doesn't work properly, they might be denying access to a lot of their users," said Evans.

"Now if you're a private business, then the worse that happens is that you lose some of your revenue that day. But if you are offering services to UK citizens and you are introducing something which denies them access because it does not work properly, there are all sorts of issues for government, local authorities or even NHS websites, that a retailer would not face."

The ICO's general enforcement policy is that that monetary penalties of up to £500,000 can only be issued in the most serious cases, where serious harm has been caused, the organisation should have been aware of its failings and not taken steps to address them.

Simon Rice, also a policy manager for the data protection watchdog, said: "Looking at cookies, it would be very difficult in many cases to apply that test."

Evans said that the ICO's initial approach was always to try to achieve compliance through negotiation, rather than addressing a problem after it had happened.

He said that local authorities were working hard to become compliant. "What we want is an element of consistency where an organisation doing something properly can then disseminate that practice among their colleagues in similar sectors," he said.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said that the government expected that all departments would comply "by the earliest possible date". He added, however, that there was no "single reason" for them not being able to comply now.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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