'Privacy' The Latest Tool Being Used For Censorship

from the right-to-be-forgotten dept

In the last few months, we've written a few times about the EU's bizzare fascination with a "right to be forgotten," which is a bizarre attempt to create laws that would let individuals demand that anything they don't like about themselves be deleted from the internet. The argument supporting this is always that it's a form of a "privacy" right, but that's not true. A right to privacy is about keeping your private info private. This "right to be forgotten" is usually about trying to block public info. However, the EU is still pushing forward with this idea, apparently not realizing how disastrous it would actually be in practice. Supporters have mocked concerns about free speech, claiming that we Americans "fetishize" free speech.

But this goes beyond just a basic free speech claim or a privacy claim. This is really about censorship. Berin Szoka points us to a great analysis by Peter Fleischer about how a "right to be forgotten" is really about censorship. Fleischer is Chief Privacy Counsel for Google, but wrote this on his personal blog, rather than as an official Google position.
More and more, privacy is being used to justify censorship. In a sense, privacy depends on keeping some things private, in other words, hidden, restricted, or deleted. And in a world where ever more content is coming online, and where ever more content is find-able and share-able, it's also natural that the privacy counter-movement is gathering strength. Privacy is the new black in censorship fashions. It used to be that people would invoke libel or defamation to justify censorship about things that hurt their reputations. But invoking libel or defamation requires that the speech not be true. Privacy is far more elastic, because privacy claims can be made on speech that is true.

Privacy as a justification for censorship now crops up in several different, but related, debates: le droit a l'oubli, the idea that content (especially user-generated content on social networking services) should auto-expire, the idea that data collection by companies should not be retained for longer than necessary, the idea that computers should be programmed to "forget" just like the human brain. All these are movements to censor content in the name of privacy. If there weren't serious issues on both sides of the debate, we wouldn't even be talking about this.
The whole thing is a good read. He breaks down the component issues, to get around the attempts by some to conflate very different issues to support a right to be forgotten.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    crade (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 11:58am

    The word private has several meanings and implications, and I believe the way it is being used here refers to the design and intent of the information, not to the current availability or level of secrecy.

     

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  2.  
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    Miles Barnett (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:36pm

    How will they square this up with the previous post about France requiring data retention? You can't retain it and delete it at the same time.

     

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  3.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Invraisemblable!

    You forget sir, legislating and enforcing logical impossible things is a government's bread and butter. It's called 'having your cake and eating it too.' I think there's a South Park episode about it...

     

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  4.  
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    Hopeful, Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    what about Pederasses

    Would this mean sex offenders could demand to have there names removed from all the sex offender tracking sites.

     

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  5.  
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    ComputerAddict (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Re: what about Pederasses

    That, and every news article, blog post, and memorial to their victims.

     

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  6.  
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    BBT, Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:56pm

    "The argument supporting this is always that it's a form of a "privacy" right, but that's not true. A right to privacy is about keeping your private info private."

    Are you sure? Let's imagine a hypothetical world where legislation has been passed that installs millions of cameras, recording everything that ever happens in a public area. All locations that are open to the public are required to install these cameras (perhaps they're reimbursed for the costs). Microphones are everywhere public, too.

    Would such legislation not be a gross violation of privacy? Even though the only things that would be recorded are "public"?

    As technology continues to makes surveillance devices cheaper, and recording quality better, and data storage cheaper...this type of issue will become more common. The courts have relied on the faulty premise that there is no right to privacy for things done "in public". Technology is on a steady march to making constant surveillance of everything done "in public" an economically viable idea. When it happens, we'll see just how faulty that premise is.

     

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  7.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 12:58pm

    Re:

    If you want to invoke your right to be forgotten, they will comply as per the law. Also per the law, they will have to log your invocation of said right, as well as all information they had to delete.

    If you want those new logs to be forgotten you will just have to invoke your right to be forgotten again. Granted, that will create a new set of logs with the same information plus the new request to be forgotten.

    Your only hope is to create an infinite loop with requests to be forgotten and hope they run out of disk space.

     

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  8.  
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    gojomo (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:01pm

    You know a European who'd really like to be forgotten?

    Hitler.

     

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  9.  
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    jenningsthecat (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:02pm

    What about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc?

    If they were alive today, would they have a "right to be forgotten"?

    The EU isn't promoting privacy, they're merely attempting to erase history. They won't succeed because of the nature of the 'Net, but they may establish some dangerous precedents and justifications in the process of trying.

    It would be tempting to dismiss this as mere stupidity, if it wasn't also dangerous.

     

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  10.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:07pm

    Re: What about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc?

    Don't kid yourself--all stupidity is dangerous, it's just a matter of scale.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    jenningsthecat (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Re: What about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc?

    "Don't kid yourself--all stupidity is dangerous, it's just a matter of scale."

    Too true!

     

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  12.  
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    Brian Schroth (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:15pm

    Re:

    whoops, that was me who posted this. And I'm not trying to justify these "Right to forget" laws- they're ridiculous.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Donny (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:19pm

    Re:

    I think a key difference is, do you regard yourself as basically public, and when you want conceal something you take steps to do so - wear a trench-coat and sunglasses, close the door, etc - or do you regard yourself as basically private, and the extra steps are what're taken in order to place yourself in the public arena?

    That legislation is horrible to the latter, but to the former isn't even worth frowning at.

     

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  14.  
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    Loonesta, Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:21pm

    In this case, the definition of "private" is the one that had been used for the last thousand years or so, not the one you children think it ought to be, just to please you.

     

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  15.  
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    Brian Schroth (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    Why do the law's authors stop at the internet? I should be able to demand the erasure of any information about me, no matter whether it's on the internet or not. If a newspaper publishes an article about me, I demand the right to destroy every copy of that newspaper after the designated time-to-forget it. And if anyone writes a book about me, I really ought to have the right to have a good ol' fashioned book burning after enough time has gone by.

    Hell, what if someone out there just has a good memory, and remembers what I did? They'll have to be lobotomized, of course. I have a right to make them forget.

     

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  16.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Re: what about Pederasses

    > That, and every news article, blog post, and
    > memorial to their victims.

    Perhaps they could get a court order requiring the victims themselves to forget the incident and who it was that molested them.

     

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  17.  
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    Jose_X, Mar 11th, 2011 @ 3:54pm

    Re:

    techdirt.eu is only going to make money with comments if it blocks each person who wants to comment in order to avoid the liability that each and every comment might one day have to be deleted to please someone somewhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    zenmeister (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 4:00pm

    Forget This. . .

    Spider Robinson: Melancholy Elephants http://www.spiderrobinson.com/melancholyelephants.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Atkray (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 5:30pm

    Availibility

    "Your only hope is to create an infinite loop with requests to be forgotten and hope they run out of disk space."

    What platform do I need to run this application?

     

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  20.  
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    freak (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 6:24pm

    Re: Availibility

    A macro that recursively calls itself and pulls garbage collection every so often would do it.

    So . . . any platform that can handle the interface.


    Oh, wait, your system would have to run faster than their system's storage grows, which might actually be a problem.

     

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  21.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 11th, 2011 @ 11:11pm

    Re:

    In this case, the definition of "private" is the one that had been used for the last thousand years or so, not the one you children think it ought to be, just to please you.

    Can you elaborate?

     

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  22.  
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    iveseenitall, Mar 11th, 2011 @ 11:43pm

    Wait a minute.
    I'm still trying to digest the individuals have no expectation of privacy in public places or when sending unencrypted emails mantra.
    If the above mentioned right to be forgotten becomes a right will will we ever find Osama Bin Laden?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2011 @ 1:19am

    the idea that computers should be programmed to "forget" just like the human brain

    "C:\Windows\system32"? Sounds vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place it... *BSOD*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Fungo Knubb (profile), Mar 12th, 2011 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Forget This. . .

    Not only an excellent story, but quite plausible to boot.

    Thanks for sharing that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    nasch (profile), Mar 12th, 2011 @ 6:34pm

    Free speech or censorship?

    But this goes beyond just a basic free speech claim or a privacy claim. This is really about censorship.

    What's the difference between a free speech issue and a censorship issue? Isn't censorship by definition the abridgment of freedom of speech?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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