Friday, July 25, 2014

The Right To Be Forgotten


Cultural differences in our sense of privacy and freedom
Do we have a right to be forgotten? Many of us surely wish to be remembered, at least by our close friends and family. But there are times when elements of our past could reflect negatively on our present. With that in mind, some countries recognize in law the idea of the ‘Right To Be Forgotten.’
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In 2012 the European Commision for Justice and the European Union moved to establish a new privacy right – the right to be forgotten. The concept is based in French law holding that a convicted criminal who has served his sentence can object to the publication of the original crime. This European notion of privacy may be somewhat at odds with the American ideas of freedom of information and freedom of speech.
How do these ideas apply in the Internet age?

 “…it is very hard to escape your past on the Internet now that every photo, status update, and tweet lives forever in the cloud.”
Jeffrey Rosen
Professor of Law, The George Washington University

Image credit: ukfast.co.uk

This privacy-freedom tension was brought sharply into focus when in May 2014 Mario Costeja Gonz├ílez, a Spanish citizen, brought a complaint to the European Court of Justice regarding Google links. He asked that Google remove links to newspaper articles about past debts and home foreclosures – debts he had since paid. The court ruled that Google would indeed have to take down the links for versions of its search operating within Europe. This decision, which now affects all search engines operating in Europe, may well seem odd to American citizens who are accustomed to freedom of information and freedom of speech as ideas that may trump personal privacy. The decision certainly must have seemed burdensome to Google, an American company whose existence is based on making published information available as broadly as possible.

Since May, Google has received nearly 100,000 requests to take down links from its European search operations and reportedly has been complying and taking down links at a rapid rate.

What are the implications of this issue? Is this “right to be forgotten” a basic human right? Will it lead to revisionism with risks to accurate history? Are there ways to strike a balance?


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