Europeans Continue To Push For 'Right To Be Forgotten'; Claim Americans 'Fetishize' Free Speech

from the let's-try-this-again... dept

Back in November, we wrote about a proposal making the rounds in the EU for an official "right to be forgotten" law, which would allow people to demand that any website delete all info about a person at their request. As we've noted, some European countries already have something like this, such as in Germany, where a convicted murderer tried to force Wikipedia to remove his name in a discussion about the murder. France has been arguing for such a law for a while as well.

Over at The Atlantic, there's a story with the expected storyline about how Europe loves privacy, while the US loves free speech, and this whole "right to be forgotten" issue is where those two cultures clash. While there is some truth to the stereotypical claims about the US believing free speech trumps all and Europe valuing privacy much more, I still think this story line is not accurate for two important reasons.

First, I still don't believe the "right to be forgotten" is truly a privacy issue at all. A privacy issue is about protecting private information. The right to be forgotten is the opposite of that. It's asking websites to delete public information, including factual news information about a person. That's not about privacy. That's about pretending public information is really private.

And that brings up the second point, which is that the concept of a "right to be forgotten" isn't just silly because of the free speech restriction, but because it's impossible. You might be able to force some information off of some websites, but it will simply be impossible to erase that information completely -- especially on a global internet, where large segments of that internet will not exist in countries that abide by any "right to be forgotten." But even beyond that, once information is public and in people's brains, it's impossible to force them to forget it and equally impossible to realistically tell them they cannot ever speak about it again. From a sheer logistical angle, the whole idea of a "right to be forgotten" is so laughable that it's a waste to even seriously consider implementing such a thing.

Of course, that's probably why some politicians will still try to do exactly that.

Filed Under: europe, free speech, privacy, right to be forgotten, us

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2011 @ 11:04am


    That's a good lead-in for what I wanted to say. Suppose we erased all references to the Quayle gaffe at the spelling bee.

    Most of us will still remember that Quayle misspelled potato but many will forget that the card he was looking at also contained the misspelling.

    How many people who haven't read about Charles Manson know that he wasn't even present when Sharon Tate was murdered? (not that that exonerates him or anything).

    If Manson were to have his "right to be forgotten" almost everyone would still remember him but we'd also probably think he actually cut out her heart and ate it as well.

    So the right to be forgotten could seriously backfire.

    I have no concrete evidence but I suspect Germany's laws against Nazi propaganda have probably fueled some neo-Nazis who see themselves as oppressed because Mein Kampf is banned.

    Even the Central Council of Jews in Germany has changed its zero-tolerance stance toward a German release of Mein Kampf. "An aggressive and enlightened way of dealing with the book would undoubtedly divest it of much of the myth that so unjustly surrounds it," says Stephan Kramer, the organization's general secretary. The "lack of comprehensive knowledge about the [National Socialist] regime" doesn't allow German youths to put the book "into context." A well-annotated edition is both "sensible and important." Read more:,8599,1831786,00.html#ixzz1D1C3dHwL

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