The Right To Be Forgotten

The Right To Be Forgotten

Should we be able to legally disassociate ourselves from information posted online?

Savannah Dube

Recently I found myself distracted from homework, caught in the mind trap that is Wikipedia, when I came across a page on the “Right to be Forgotten,” a topic I was unfamiliar with. According to the page, the Right to be Forgotten has been a legal concept in the EU and in Argentina since 2006, stemming from individuals wanting to "determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past." Essentially, people are acknowledging how permanent and accessible the Internet has made information, and taking legislative action so those pictures of you underage and drunk at a party won’t ruin your life forever.

Upon further research, I learned that the UK has a law in place called the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which enables people who have committed minor crimes and progressed through their rehabilitation periods without issue to move forward with clean records. These people do not need to reveal their past crimes for most job, insurance, or civil proceeding purposes, except those specified under the law. In the US however, the First Amendment trumps the Right to be Forgotten and laws differ from state to state. Expunging a criminal record, if allowed in the given state, requires a court case which many ex-felons likely would not have the resources to pursue. The Right to be Forgotten however, does not pertain as much to criminal records as it does to removing search engine associations to someone’s name. A situation in which this law would be useful could be an angry ex posting someone’s nudes which are then accessible to anyone who searches their name. Opinions vary in the US regarding whether this right should be recognized, and there is currently no legal framework in place.

Since learning about this concept, I realized that my friends had instituted a local version of the Right to be Forgotten within the group. Each member is given the ability, once per day, to immediately strike something they say or do from the record, meaning that nobody else is allowed to bring it up again later or tell anyone else. This strike system was established with comedic intent and saved a few people from being teased for weeks, but I had been unaware of how similar it was to real legislature. One facet of our system in particular is that people only strike things that they do or say; for instance, you might strike tripping and falling down, but if you didn’t strike it and someone gave you a nickname related to tripping later on, you couldn’t strike the nickname. This is where we differ from the Right to be Forgotten, which centers around protecting people from defamatory content accessible to third parties online. In both cases, the rule functions to prevent circulation of defamatory information, but the legal version protects someone’s image from being compromised to strangers, perhaps possible employers, while our groups’ is the equivalent of pruning your social media page and deleting posts if you don’t want people to see them anymore.

The way online presence and the transfer of information is developing, I personally think the US should work out some sort of legislature to protect people online, but I understand how this contradicts American freedoms. One situation that seems to keep arising is the leaking of celebrity nudes, posted without their consent. Although there are legal consequences for those who leak the pictures, it is not illegal to view the pictures once posted online, and no way to totally remove them from the Internet. This context is specific to the digital age, and forces people to reconsider their opinions; do you think people should be able to remove content from the internet permanently, if that’s even possible? Or is that the start of a dangerous road to 1984’s rewriting history and mind police? You tell me.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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