Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The EU forgets

In 2007, I criticized what I considered to be an unworkable plan to institute forgetting on the Internet. The idea was to mandate that providers delete one's records after a certain time. That way, for instance, your teenage antics wouldn't follow you around forever and you can rest assured that your duckface pics and embarrassing status messages would expire.

According to Jeffrey Rosen, the EU has now proposed internet forgetting as a universal right - and not in the context of expiration, but rather in the context of individual requests:
The proposed right would require companies like Facebook and Google to remove information that people post about themselves and later regret—even if that information has already been widely distributed. 
So if your 2007 duckface pic embarrasses you in 2012, you can delete it from Facebook. If your friends shared it, you can ask Facebook to delete it from their streams too. A journalistic exemption exists, presuming you can make a case for it - if you can't, and you remove it anyway, you face a million-Euro fine. And
Moreover, the right to be forgotten can be asserted not only against the publisher of content (such as Facebook or a newspaper) but against search engines like Google and Yahoo that link to the content. 
So if you're Rick Santorum, you can tell the search engines to remove content.

As Rosen argues, this EU law conflicts with US First Amendment rights. The impact on US companies doing business in the EU - such as Google - remains unclear.

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