Internet Conflict– ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Vs. ‘Right to Know’: The Rorschach Test– See What You Want to See…

Right to be Forgotten; the European Union Court of Justice (EU) ruled, in May 2014, that Europeans have the ‘right to be forgotten’ and Internet search engine firms, e.g.; Google… must remove links from the European versions of their searches, when an individual makes a  request to do so…

According to the EU law; the ‘right to be forgotten’ is a legal right for individuals to request their personal information be removed from all Internet searches in European Union countries, and other countries are following with similar laws... For some people it’s a right to reinvent themselves, and to get second chance. For others it’s a chance to hide incriminating information about themselves…

However, many others, including U.S. say that the very foundation of the Internet is based on ‘permanency’ and ‘right to know’: Once information is in the Internet people cannot just delete it and shred the past; because now it’s in to public domain, where governments has it, Facebook has it, Google has it…

However, search engine like Google… are saying that it does not control data it only offers links to information that’s freely available on the Internet, and forcing it to remove that data amounts to censorship… So this issue has pitted privacy advocates against free speech campaigners, who say allowing people to ask search engines firms to remove information would lead to a white-washing of the past…

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The EU has been pushing heavily for a new law on data privacy– of which ‘right to be forgotten’ is a key component, and, they are looking to extend their ruling worldwide… It argues that old, inaccurate or even just irrelevant data should be taken out of search results, if the person involved requests it… for example; drunken pictures from university days, or revenge nude photos, or references to petty crimes committed many years ago… all of which remain a prominent part of a person’s Internet footprint… While others say that people could use this type law to hide and suppress information of public importance, such as; information about elected officials conduct, or dangerous  criminals, or sex offenders, or paedophiles…

In the U.S., it’s next to impossible to redact or shred a person past. It’s doable, but solutions are hard to come by and many experts say; that it’s highly improbable that U.S. will change to the EU model, any time soon: Forgive but not forget is the U.S. attitude, for example; if you sold five grams of weed and got busted for it ten years ago, or if you put up embarrassing selfie on Facebook in college… and you want to delete it, then that’s just tough– you must live with it…

‘EU’ Law Vs. ‘U.S.‘ Law: It’s prudent here to insert a brief description of the differences between U.S. law and EU law when it comes to privacy and control of one’s reputation. The legal powers of the U. S., which are not extending the benefits of the ‘right to be forgotten’ to U.S. citizens, believe that information should flow freely in order to best educate and protect its citizens and democracy from dangers of censorship and tyranny. They rely on tort law to protect individuals from harmful effects of blatant and malicious falsehoods, specifically laws protecting one from libel…

And, if someone post something online that is false, presumably the U.S. legal system would offer recompense for the libeled individual. But, if something is true the U.S. government will probably refuse to take any action to negate the posting. That would be an infringement on ‘right of free speech’ and the right of the public to access true information…

In Europe, things operate similar but with more range. The European high court sees privacy as a right. They consider the individual as the arbiter of what should and should not be released about private matters including, but not limited to, those that take place in the home, secrets, thoughts, ideas… There is a right to privacy in the U.S. as well, but it does not hold the weight that it does in the EU… The difference is all the more clear when you add in the ‘right to be forgotten’…

In EU, if a person makes a mistake or find something online that displeases them, they have the right to dispute that with search engine firms (e.g., Google…) and in turn, these firms, under this ruling, must review the case and remove the data should it find information to be irrelevant or unimportant to the general public. In the U.S., you can request that search firms remove false information but, if it’s true, they have no obligation to do so…

According to Eric Schmidt at Google; simple way of understanding on what is happening here is that you have a collision between ‘right to be forgotten’ and ‘right to know’, and clearly there must be a balance… having looked at the ruling, which is binding; the balance struck by the EU is wrong…

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In the article The Solace of Oblivion by Jeffrey Toobin writes: The European Court ruled that search engine firms (e.g., Google…) must delete certain links that violate privacy… The consequences of the European Court of Justice’s (Court) decision are just beginning to be understood… Public reaction to the decision, especially in the U. S. and Great Britain, has been largely critical. An editorial in the New York Times declared; it could undermine press freedoms and freedom of speech… A recent report by a committee of England’s House of Lords called the decision; misguided in principle and unworkable in practice.

According to Jules Polonetsky; the decision will go down in history as one of the most significant mistakes that a court has ever made… It gives very little value to free expression. If a particular web-site is doing something illegal, then that should be stopped and search engines firms should not link to it. But for the Court to outsource to search firms, like Google, to make decisions about whether to publish, suppress a person information, says– that something is very wrong with the process… it’s essentially requires Internet search firms to adjudicate these issues and that shows a basic lack of understanding of reality…

The European Court’s ruling applies only to search engines, not to social-media sites, but the principles underlying the decision have also drawn attention and concern at Facebook, where posts are not public in the same way that search results are; where most posts are generally visible only to ‘friends’.

But the standards for access to posts are slippery and often poorly understood by the people who use the service. In light of this, the chances that photos on Facebook could stray in embarrassing directions may be even greater than the risk of unwanted results appearing in a Google search… It’s clear, for the moment, that this decision has created a real, if manageable, issue for Internet search firms, for example; suppose the French establish their own definition of right to be forgotten, and the Danes establish still another, and countries around the world applying their own laws, traditions… then, the result is an Internet in crisis.

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In the article The Right to Be Forgotten by Jeffrey Rosen writes: In theory, the ‘right to be forgotten’ addresses an urgent problem in the digital age: it’s very hard to escape your past on the Internet now that every photo, status update, and tweet lives forever in the cloud. But Europe and U.S. have diametrically opposed approaches to the problem. In Europe, which is the intellectual roots of the ‘right to be forgotten’ concept is found in French law, which recognizes; ‘le droit à l’oubli’, or ‘the right of oblivion’– a right allowing convicted criminals who have served their time and presumably rehabilitated– to object to the publication of any facts about their conviction and incarceration.

In U.S. by contrast, publication of a person’s criminal record is protected by the First Amendment… European regulators believe that citizens face the difficulty of escaping the past now that Internet records everything and forgets nothing– a difficulty that used to be limited to only convicted criminals… According to Viviane Reding; the core provision of ‘right to be forgotten’ is simply; If an individual no longer wants his personal data to be processed or stored by a data controller, and if there is no legitimate reason for keeping it, then the data should be removed from the system.. But it’s also clear that the ‘right to be forgotten’ cannot amount to a right for the total erasure of history…

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In the article No Easy Answer to Enforce Europe’s Law by Steve Del Bianco writes: The EU ruling upsets a basic principle regarding the openness of the Internet, and has always been viewed as a platform to express opinions, access information… But, this ruling converts search firms from intermediaries into censors, forcing them to balance Europeans’ right to information against an individuals’ demands to suppress lawfully published information about them…

The problem is the virtual impossibility of harmonizing the Court ruling with even the most basic concept of Internet freedom. Mass suppression of data through search blocking is wholly antithetical to the right to access information… Some Internet advocates are calling on the European Court and lawmakers to ‘void’ the ruling but until then Internet search firms are still saddled with immediate challenge of implementation…

Internet search engines firms are not, nor should they be, the ‘censors’ of the Internet, and they should not be put in the position of deciding what information is– adequate, relevant, no longer relevant… based solely on an individuals complaint… Balancing rights to freedom of expression and privacy is never easy, especially online, but the ‘right to be forgotten’ should not become some sort of ‘super right’ that trump all others…

Privacy experts are taking a new look at whether a ‘right to be forgotten’ law aimed at Internet search engines firms can coexist with the constitutional protections of freedom of speech and the press… Some see ‘right to be forgotten’ as a very successful political slogan, but like many successful political slogans, it’s like a Rorschach test; people can see what they want to see, for example: On one hand, some people, perhaps without considering the consequences, ‘see’ the ‘right to be forgotten’ as the ‘right’ to protect privacy; whereas other people, supposedly defenders of freedom of expression and the ‘right to know’, ‘see’ it as a free speech issue…