Post Classifieds

'Right to be Forgotten' could change constitutional rights

By Sunny Strader
On March 16, 2012

  • Koko Lee. CHRISTA SCHRODEL / THE DEPAUW

The Internet is a scary place that leaves little room for mistakes. In our digital-age, it can be hard to escape your past with every Facebook status, photo and tweet forever recorded in cyberspace.
What if you could erase your mistakes from the Internet forever? You would no longer have to worry about someone maliciously posting and sharing photos of your regrettable Saturday night moments.
The "Right to be Forgotten" phenomena spreading across Europe gives Internet users the right to control any data generated about themselves.
While reviewing the data protection law, Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission, gave a proposal that emphasized the importance of an increased Internet privacy policy.
The "Right to be Forgotten," perhaps the most noteworthy feature of Reding's proposal, requires Internet companies to delete any information about a user upon the user's wishes, unless there are is a "legitimate" reason to keep it posted. 27 European Union member states have jumped on board.
For college students who are frequently censoring and "cleaning up" their social networking pages, the "Right to be Forgotten" appears to be in one's favor. How wonderful it would be to thoroughly cleanse your Internet image of all its blemishes.
Upon further research, I found the "Right to be Forgotten" to be a sinister issue. NPR Science Correspondent Robert Krulwich claims the "Right to be Forgotten" is the "the biggest threat to free speech on the Internet in the coming decade."
The United States and Europe take opposite approaches when it comes to the increasing Internet privacy. The "Right to be Forgotten" stems from the roots of the French law "le droit à l'oubli" - the "right of oblivion." The right of oblivion allows convicted felons, upon rehabilitation, to object to published facts of his incarceration.
In contrast, the United States exercises the First Amendment, allowing the publication of some one's criminal history.
Unlike Europe, the United States has not reached the point where we forgive criminals and remove them from history. The conceptual roots of the "Right to be Forgotten" run parallel with those of Europe, but they are at strict odds with those of the United States.
Additionally, according to the Stanford Law Review, this right could "precipitate a dramatic clash between European and American conceptions of the proper balance between privacy and free speech," therefore leading to a far less open Internet.
Another problematic element of Reding's proposal is the ambiguous language that is used in its definition. What exactly qualifies as a "legitimate reason" to remove content?
Suddenly, we asking much more of Internet companies than they are trained to provide. Companies would be forced to meddle with the petty dramas of the American people, when their specialized interests pertain to the field of technology.
Exactly how selective are Internet companies? At what point do they begin to erase history? When does removal of content impede on the public's right to know?
If we need some clarification on what is "legitimate" perhaps we should consult a judge.
As much anxiety as the "Right to be Forgotten" would alleviate, I can not argue against freedom of speech, freedom of press or the public's right to know. We must also consider how this right could potentially erase much of our history.

- Strader is a sophomore from Danville, Ill., majoring in art history.
opinion@thedepauw.com


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