Do We Need a ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ On the Internet?

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Like the proverbial elephant, the Internet never forgets. That youthful indiscretion or embarrassing party photograph can be around your neck forever.

Actually, the issue is not so much that the Internet does not forget, but rather that it provides tools that allow virtually anything about you to be found.

Blame Google, of course, but the various personal information services are quite a bit more insidious.

With one search and $35 or so, they use each piece of information they find about you to dig that much deeper – so fact A leads to fact B, which leads to C, D, and E. I did a search on myself, and while the youthful indiscretions and party pictures were in short supply, one of them was able to find my ex-wife’s mother’s maiden name.

This raises an important legal and societal question of who owns the information about us — and do we have the right to suppress it?

As the New York Times recently reported, different parts of the world have very different views on that question.

In the United States, there is generally no legal right to require a website to eliminate information about you. There are exceptions for regulated industries such as credit reporting agencies, but essentially if a website has information about you they are allowed to publish it.

That is a choice we as a society have made, and it is a direct extension of our First Amendment that guarantees free speech.

So in the U.S., our courts have consistently held that the right to publish truthful information about someone’s past supersedes any right to privacy. Contrast that with the South Korean constitution, which explicitly gives individuals the right to control information about themselves.

In Europe, the Data Protection Directive of the EU is based on a philosophy that a person’s right of privacy is more important than freedom of speech and the right to know.

As the Times says:

“The European perspective was shaped by the way information was collected and used against individuals under dictators like Franco and Hitler and under Communism. Government agencies routinely compiled dossiers on citizens as a means of control.”

In Germany, for example, privacy laws allow the suppression of criminal identities in news stories, once people have paid their debt to society. And it appears there will be more such laws coming in the future: 90% of Europeans want the EU to enshrine a “right to be forgotten” into law.

What about you? Which side of the question would you come down on – freedom of speech or an individual’s right to privacy?

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.