'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.
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Filed Under: censorship, europe, privacy, right to be forgotten


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  1. identicon
    BBT, 11 Mar 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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