You are sitting on a cold chair in a bright room, hands cradling your forehead, trying to concentrate on the difference between the present indicative active and future indicative active tenses of the third conjugation for Latin verbs. But your mind keeps drifting, fixing on a knot of yammering librarians.
Youve had enough. "Shhhh!" you say. "Im trying to study over here, this being a library and all." Bad move. The coven rises and swarms to your desk like angry wasps. "Cant you read?" asks one woman, as she points to a sign above your head that reads, "No Talking."
"But I couldnt concentrate on my work because you people were talking! You were breaking your own rules!" "What we do is of no concern to you," says another librarian. "The rules are for patrons."
Welcome to the twisted world of Uncle Sam and cyberspace privacy, a place riddled with government officials pushing for federal privacy legislation and quick to condemn industry for inadequate privacy policies yet brazenly ignoring their own policies.
According to a study commissioned by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., federal agencies are regularly failing to manage their online operations within the privacy policies put into place by the Clinton administration. The report found that 64 federal Web sites were using unauthorized browser "cookies."
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to pass laws that would regulate privacy in cyberspace. This year, the debate over privacy legislation began with a roiling boil, but seems to have calmed to a simmer. Now, lawmakers are talking increasingly about dealing with government privacy issues before tackling privacy in the decidedly more thorny private sector.
Given Uncle Sams flagrant disregard for its own laws, it seems like an important first step.