The new right to be forgotten

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that Google has to remove links to specific articles on (proper) request where the damage to the individual outweighs the public right to know.

It has generated a lot of reaction. Lots of people have done things, or have been accused of doing things, and would prefer that the records of that don’t appear when people do a search for them. If a pedophile or a corrupt politician wants to erase something from their past, then many of us would object. If it is someone who once had a bad debt and long since paid it off, that seems more reasonable. So is there any general principle that would be useful? I think so.

When someone is convicted of a crime, sometimes they are set to prison. When their sentence terminates, they are considered to have suffered enough punishment and are free to live a normal life. However, they keep a criminal record, and if they apply for a job, the potential employer can find out that they have done something. So they don’t get a clean record. Even that is being challenged now and the right to start again with a clean slate is being considered. In trials, usually the prosecution is not allowed to mention previous crimes lest they prejudice the jury – the accused is being tried for this crime, not for previous ones and their guilt should be assessed on the evidence, not prejudice.

The idea that after a suitable period of punishment you can have the record wiped clean is appealing. Or if not the formal record, then at least easy casual access to it. It has a feel of natural justice to it. Everyone should have the right to start again once they’ve made amends, paid their debt to society. Punishment should not last for ever, even long after the person has reformed.

This general principle could be applied online. For crimes, when a judge sentences the guilty, they could include in their punishment a statement of the longevity of internet records, the duration of public shame. Our lawmakers should decide the fit and proper duration of that for all kinds of crime just as they do the removal of liberty. When that terminates, those records should no longer turn up in searches within that jurisdiction. For non-criminal but embarrassing life events, there should be an agreed tariff too and it could be implemented by Information Commissioners or similar authorities, who would maintain a search exemption list to be checked against search results before display. Society may well decide that for certain things that are in public interest. If someone took drugs at college, or got drunk and went rather too far at a party, or was late paying a debt, or had an affair, or any of a million other things, then the impact on their future life would have a time limit, which hopefully would be the same for everyone. My understanding of this ECJ ruling is that is broadly what is intended. The precise implementation details can now be worked out. If so, I don’t really have any big objection, though I may well be missing something.

It is indisputably censorship and some people will try to use their power or circumstances to get into the clear earlier than seems right. However, so far the ECJ ruling only covers the appearance in search engines, i.e casual research. It will stop you easily finding out about something in your neighbor’s or a colleague’s distant past. It won’t prevent journalists finding things out, because a proper journalist will do their research thoroughly and not just type a couple of words into Google. In its current form, this ruling will not amount to full censorship, more of a nosey neighbour gossip filter. The rules will need to be worked out and to be applied. We should hope that the rules are made fair and the same for all, with no exceptions for the rich and powerful.


34 responses to “The new right to be forgotten

  1. Pingback: Futureseek Daily Link Review; 16 May 2014 | Futureseek Link Digest

  2. I hope it reaches here

  3. The thing I’m worried about is that if people are allowed to ‘wipe the slate clean’ it might remove any deterrent that would stop them from doing the thing in the first place. People should be more anxious about their reputations.

  4. Interesting post, thanks.

  5. I don’t see any form of “deletion” working. Not for the Internet. It opens too many doors to abuse; whose to say that anyone’s personal blog cannot be flagged and forced to be deleted because someone out there doesn’t like the content? Instead, the people who want their mentions to be forgotten should instead work to keep a better public image up. Do some SEO work, put out clarification articles, etc. It’s a lot of work, but it’s far less than trying to take on the Internet.

  6. Reblogged this on Sidney Rema Oirere and commented:

  7. “We should hope that the rules are made fair and the same for all, with no exceptions for the rich and powerful.” This could be said of so, so many things… if only, is all I can say in response. The right to be forgotten will be an interesting case to watch, thanks for this informative post!

  8. Interesting post..

  9. I have mixed feeling here. As a clean cut guy, I feel like you are the product of your acts, the wrongs and redemptive included. But expungement has long been a part of the law. I think there is unplumbed depth here.

  10. In the USA a Google search won’t open someone’s credit or criminal history to instant view, anyway. Instead, you’ll get ads and sponsored links to companies who collect and distribute such information for a fee.

  11. Reblogged this on ccalcador and commented:
    For forwarding thinking.

  12. If life were that simple…!

  13. It’s interesting to read a post that is full of hesitant hope, and then scroll down to see doubt, encouragement, and privilege. It’s an interesting experiment, and I hope that humanity makes good use of it. But only time will tell if this act will lead to abuse of the system.
    There are so many people that are in horrible situations due to a variety of factors. To be blind to that fact (see Mr. Hardwick comment below) is naïve, and the sort of judgmental behavior people want to avoid after going through whatever hellish part of their life they just came out of. Think not on the people who may get to cash in on their “right to be forgotten” but instead think of all the grime, violence, and prejudice that went without any consequence.
    Can we use this act to progress further?

  14. Reblogged this on Basic of.

  15. This is crazy…very interesting…thank you

  16. I don’t even know what to say about this. The internet really is taking over. I mean come on, sentencing what goes on the internet? If you committed a crime, especially against another living being- you deserve to have everyone know and it to be on the internet. Your embarrassment becomes irrelevant.

  17. Ever so cool, ever so witty … I love it. Thus, I shall follow you my friend.

  18. The problem with wiping away a criminal record is that prison IS punishment in America – not reformation and barely rehabilitation. Once someone has been in prison they are twice as likely to re-enter the system. The likelihood of reentry grows with each sentence served. The majority of people in prison are repeat offenders.

  19. This is a very interesting article, Its has brought out some of the most important issues on the fore.One aspect that has stack on my mind is the issue of a person being judged based on past offenses much as it is true for people to reform and begin new life. It is also true that others don’t.Based on that I guess it’s fair for anybody either employer or partner to have access to that information before entering in any serious engagement.

  20. Absolutely u got this one down right man.. Keeped me entertained for ages.

  21. i think the Dems in the sennet should have there own investagtion and have seven dems and five gops

  22. Reblogged this on Not so Magical Adventures and commented:
    I have lots of thoughts on this topic, it is a hot one at that. Google is not the “master” of the data being shown about you. They are just a search engine. Having Google block searches of you does not meant that things cannot be found using a different browser, or in a news paper, or on a specific companies website. You cannot stop the information, it is going to be out there and if it can be found on the internet, it it probably public knowledge, by law, and should stay out there.

  23. I think a convicted murderer or rapist having their crimes on the internet is beneficial for even themselves, and embarrassment would be the least of their worries, it may even prevent any possible future evil intent. I’m not saying that a person cannot change, but that’s not for us to decide. Hiding it in the dark isn’t going to help anyone. If a person can accept a person or employ a person after knowing their crime after seeing that they have truly reformed, how much richer that person’s life would be, you would be robbing them of that if everything was covered. A person is more at peace with themselves and their fellow human beings if everything is out in the open. Unless of course they have something they are currently getting up to that they want to hide.

  24. I think it’s a slippery slope and if we let it go we will find ourselves quickly regretting it. We need to keep our nets as free as possible.

  25. Reblogged this on Milly Bygrave and commented:
    A great explanation of the right to privacy ruling

  26. I found this ruling interesting too – my info graph aimed to give a succinct summary of the ruling

  27. Baghdad Invest

    Absolutely, the right to be forgotten should be upheld. Yes, the likes of Google will find it painstakingly difficult to enforce but with their might, I have no doubt they will be able to implement technologies and algorithmic changes to make the necessary happen.

  28. Reblogged this on Believe Love Share and commented:
    Interesting post and a lot to think about. Thanks! However, on the back of my head something tells me there are always exceptions when it comes to the rich and powerful… Hopefully I am totally wrong.

  29. very informative and entertaining…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s