Should the “Right to be Forgotten” be Universal?

by Matt Klassen on August 14, 2015

Over the last year or so Google and the European Union have been at odds over the controversial “Right to be Forgotten,” that is, the right, whether we can actually call it that, to have information available online not haunt a person for the rest of their life, with Google arguing it is not responsible for the results of its searches while the EU counters the company plays a role as the gatekeeper, as it were, and is thus at least partially responsible for the dissemination of such information.

While initially the EU won the regulatory face-off, with Google agreeing to edit its search results based on legitimate requests that adhered to the court-established definition, it seems that simply wasn’t good enough for some European regulators, as France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) recently called on Google to apply the so-called “Right to be Forgotten” to all its global domains, effectively implementing such regulations around the world.

Google has vehemently resisted this latest demand, presenting this threefold argument: 1) Europe’s laws are not global laws, 2) content deemed illegal in one country may be permissible in others, and 3) France’s request is overly burdensome and a disproportionate and unnecessary response, given that the overwhelming majority of French Google users access google.fr. But this entire fiasco raises several interesting questions, is Internet amnesia something that would benefit the human race? Is the Right to be Forgotten a universal right?

“This is a troubling development that risks serious chilling effects on the Web,” Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer said last week. “We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access,” he added.

When seen from this particular perspective my guess is that most, particularly here in North America, would side with Google, arguing against the warrant and justification of one country imposing its laws and regulations on the world, whether they want those regulations or not.

But of course, one’s response to this contentious issue depends on just how important one views the need for Internet amnesia, that is, having the ability to erase information from the Internet. If we view the right to be forgotten as a heretofore unknown basic human right, on the level of the right to freedom or the freedom of speech, then perhaps attempting to establish this right globally is a worthy effort.

If on the other hand it’s simply the whining of some overly self-important European regulators and some people with embarrassing online content they’d like to forget, well that’s something different entirely.

Unable to definitively answer that question, all I really know is that it’s simply not Google’s job to impose this on the world, given that Google, a private enterprise, should not be required to impose, nor have the authority over something as potentially important as the “Right to be Forgotten”.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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