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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.

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  1. identicon
    BBT, 4 Feb 2011 @ 12:50pm

    privacy can still be a factor in "public"

    It's a flawed analysis to think that privacy issues can be boiled down to a black and white statement like "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.", though it is at least a flawed analysis that the courts tend to share with you.

    This dichotomy is yet another area where technology is being disruptive. The idea that anything you do in public is public information made sense before a world of ubiquitous cheap recording devices. But now it isn't so clear.

    To illustrate my point, consider the extreme. Technology is constantly making surveillance easier and cheaper. What if technology eventually made surveillance so cheap that it really was ubiquitous? What if a technology were invented that could record every single thing that happened in a "public" space, down to the last subatomic string oscillations? Would that be an invasion of privacy? I contend that, despite being entirely about things "in public", the majority of people would answer yes, that would be an invasion of privacy.

    Clearly, it makes sense for there to be an expectation of privacy for some information, but not for other information. I mean only to point out that it isn't as simple as saying "in public = no expectation of privacy; in private = expectation of privacy".

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