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. icon
    Trenzein (profile), 31 Jan 2012 @ 6:21pm

    I understand that people want their privacy protected and they want to be protected from other people saying things that are not true, but there are already ways of handling such things. The ability to allow a person to demand that a website delete anything that relates to them is a scary concept. Think about it from a political perpective, I believe that politicians are the ones most interested in seeing such a law pass. They would be able to say demand that wikipedia take down any piece of information about them that they don't like wether true or not. If something like this existed it would be easy for politicians or movie stars, anyone that has a public life and people would be interested in learning about, it would allow them to control what information does or does not get published about them, the things they did or the laws they supported which were unpopular. Things like that.

    If we are going to look at it from a regular person's perspective then as said before if you are someone who does not understand how the internet works and you go posting all your personal pictures on your facebook or myspace and everyone can see them, and they show you doing things that are not exactly flattering, the unfortunately that's on you. You choose to use something without understanding how it works and now you must face the consequences. Places like facebook and myspace have ways preventing everyone and their mother from seeing what's on your page, they may not be perfect but if you did not want anyone to see it, you should not have posted it on something as volatile as the internet.

    This isn't really about privacy. This is about controlling information. This is about someone being allowed to demand something they dont like wether true or not to be removed. It is entirely impossible to remove every trace of yourself from the internet, but with a law like this and some diligence you could make much more difficult for people to learn about you. The people who already read the information will remember it, but people who have not seen it yet, unless they can find someone who knows this information will have a harder time learning it. As I stated before this not about privacy no matter what they say, this is a way of giving people the power information from the internet, or at the very least attempt to, whether the information is accurate or not.

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