On May 13th 2014 the EU took a big step towards Internet censorship. It introduced the ‘right to be forgotten’, a new legislation that means that any individual can approach a search engine and request their personal information be deleted if it is no longer relevant or outdated.
This isn’t as clean cut as you might think; there is an incentive for technology/media companies – like Google – to keep information. They’re building a database to ensure that nothing is forgotten and all information is always available. That’s the whole point of the Internet, to have information and data right at your fingertips, for whatever purpose. In reaction, Google stated that it is ‘disappointed’ in the ruling.
I know what you’re thinking, personal information is just that, personal. However, if it’s in the public interest or a matter of national security, your ‘right to be forgotten’ won’t be a right at all. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said that he would expect Google to challenge all claims as there are other factors in play, such as the actual holder of the information. In the instance that started all the furore, it’s the duty of the newspaper to delete the information in question.
The man who started this, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, made a claim to the European Court of Justice to have information deleted that he said infringed his privacy (it was an auction notice of his repossessed house). In actual fact, this whole ordeal has ensured that what he wanted to have deleted will be engrained in history books (or search engines) forever.
Many people have taken to Twitter arguing against this new law, stating that the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ is a blow to free speech and that this is the first step toward censoring the Internet and open journalism.
So, is this a new port of call for advocates of Internet censorship? Mark Gollom, of CBC news, believes so. It enables people to craft their biographies, leaving out inconvenient truths about their past. China is the world leader in Internet censorship, monitoring activity and blocking websites that they think will be of detriment to their totalitarian society. This is what the founding fathers of the Internet wanted to avoid, by providing a free platform that isn’t regulated for freedom of information.
Now, what’s next? Canada said that it is also looking into this as a law for their own citizens, particularly for minors. I think that this may be a good idea. All kids will make mistakes and it’s unfair for them to be stuck with the stigma throughout their adult lives, unless, of course, it relates to breaking the law.
In France they feel differently about law breakers, hence the ‘right to be forgotten’ which was derived from the French term “droit à l’oubli” (right of oblivion), which allows a convicted criminal to avoid having details of conviction and incarnation published after serving prison time, thus allowing them to live a life on the straight and narrow, if they so wish.
Being forgotten though won’t just be available at a push of a button; it will have to be rigorously pursued and money will have to be spent. And, who determines if information is relevant or not? Is it Google, the source or the individual? In terms of this law, the individual has the right to make a claim against Google – and other search engines alike – to ask them to delete their information. Google will dispute claims made, as it clashes with their terms and journalists will claim violation against free press, and free press is the backbone of our society, so introducing this won’t last long against a profession that’s been perfected since the 18th century.