Forget the ‘right to forget’

by Anthony Berteaux, Assistant Opinion Editor

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The human mind is a complex uncertainty.

Our memories, and the process in which we remember and forget, are complicated processes mired in subjective experiences which construct our recollections. In many ways, we hand-pick what we want to forget, what we want to remember and how we remember.

The internet works differently. Search engines, such as Google, act as the blood of the internet, but also as a permanent record of our public identities. Should we choose to search ourselves and find an old MySpace profile from 2005, we’re rudely awakened to not only our poor wardrobe choices from that time period, but also that the internet, unlike our memories, is written in ink, not pencil. We may block our awkward prepubescent presence from our minds, but the internet never forgets.

Until now that is.

The right to be forgotten – the right for internet users to request search engines, such as Google, to remove links to information that are outdated or defaming, was introduced last year when the European Court of Justice ruled that Google had to remove outdated and detrimental information of a Spanish lawyer, Mario Costeja Gonazales. Gonzales spent five years fighting to have his home’s foreclosure news articles taken down from Google’s search engine, and as evident with the court decision–he succeeded. He set a precedent, opening the gates for 220,000 other people, since then, to take up issue with Google about their medical records, intimate private photos and old private messages that ended up online. The right to be forgotten has granted many internet users the autonomy to shape their own identity on the internet.

In light of the acceptance of this newfound right, there have been recent calls from the European courts of justices and activists to apply this law, not only to the European Union, but across the globe.

At face value, sure, the right to be forgotten would be a clean solution to the ailments of the digital age. Violations of human privacy, such as revenge porn, that have blossomed on cyberspace, would be abolished by simply “de-listing” search items that one doesn’t like.

However, to assume that the right to be forgotten is in line with the freedom of expression because of this regulatory measure is simply naïve.

This right has no place in American society.

In a nation which exercises freedom of expression and most importantly, freedom of press, the right to be forgotten violates public interest for complete transparency. ”

In a nation which exercises freedom of expression and most importantly, freedom of press, the right to be forgotten violates public interest for complete transparency. By removing information and press material from the open-medium that is the internet, based on ethical, emotional or subjective reasons, we unleash a layer of censorship onto the internet. We, as citizens with the right to freedom of information, deserve full disclosure: the good, bad and the ugly.

This motion opens an opportunity for people to edit their pasts to suit their own needs. In many ways, this raises an ethical question of transparency. Ever since the right to be forgotten was made a reality, Google’s UK branch received 20 requests from convicted criminals and pedophiles to remove old information about their crimes from the internet. Among other requests were people who wanted to disassociate themselves from racist commentary, politicians seeking to remove unfavorable articles and doctors seeking to remove bad patient reviews.

The internet has always been a tricky terrain to govern, however this movement to serve personal identities negatively affects the free movement of information. We have a right to the freedom to absorb free information on the internet. To deny us the freedom to know all transparent facts about an individual is to stifle this freedom.

Despite so, there are legitimate concerns in regards to this struggle. One of the biggest dilemmas, when it has come to the technological revolution, is the struggle to not only distinct reality from cyberspace, but also reclaim our digital identities and distinct it from our real identities. We’ve seen cases with celebrity naked picture leaks and even locally where an SDSU female had her nude photos leaked on Instagram by an ex-boyfriend. The line between our online selves and our real selves is being blurred; this is a main source of contention for this right.

In order for the right to remain forgotten to remain an ethically sound practice, we have to take strict measures to distinct between removing illegal violations of privacy and “de-listing” inconvenient information. To regulate the overflow of data revision requests, Google established an advisory board headed by lawyers and paralegals to determine which revisions can be made in the EU. An example of this being in the Google’s Transparency Report, an article detailing the name of a rape victim was removed however an article detailing financial crimes committed by another wasn’t. Overall, 60 percent of proposals have been rejected.

Distinctions must be made so as to protect our freedom of speech, but also maintain the integrity of the free-form of the internet and hold accountability for individual activity on the internet.

There is a degree of personal responsibility involved with this right. Should the right to be forgotten persist, it’s implied that online behavior and our online legacies should be greeted with little levity because it could simply be “forgotten.” The law shifts the burden of responsibility on the search engines, when it really should be on us to create our own legacy.

Hopefully, should the right to be forgotten be a standard in how we govern the internet, what it does is empower us to not focus on what we want to be forgotten but focus on how we want to be ultimately remembered.

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