David Lindsay – Most of us leave in some kind digital trail ever growing that includes both information we publish about ourselves – for example facebook postings – information published about us while the ability for sharing personal information that can enhance our lives from the dark side. Photos being emarassed can later be used against us for very very various purposes, such as the employment context.
Our personal lives can become more visible, it may be that attitudes will adjust so we become more and more tolerant and forgive personal lapses or foibles. One of the paradoxes of the digital age is that our lives become more and more transparent, attitudes seem to have become intolerant and less forgiving. In what we call attention economy is not only public figures but ordinary are subject to more scrutiny than ever.
Current default settings of the internet maximize openness and access. Once the information has been published than it becomes easily accessed especially via search engines. Yet people’s interest and operation of search algorithms means that the most accessible information about us is often the most embarrassing or hurtful.
Search ability, accessibility and permanence clearly benefit the business interests of some of the world’s largest companies. The business in Facebook or Google are in present time are based on commerce information. It is hardly surprising that it is notoriously very difficult to delete your Facebook account.
The European union is proposing introduces new laws for updating privacy for taking into account changes in technology, including the growth of social communities and social networks. The proposed laws include a right to be forgotten , it means the right of a users to ensure some of that information held about them to be erased. The proposal has generated a lot of commentary much of it is alarmist and overwrought.
There are two main criticisms of the proposed right: that it would result in unjustifiable censorship and that it is unworkable. These claims are based on a misreading of the European proposal, as well as a simplistic understanding of privacy and freedom of expression.
The proposed European law is a modest attempt for restoring some balance in favour of individuals able to control their data. The proposed right for deleting data is indeed higly qualified. The right that only arises certain conditions is satisfied such as that the data is no longer needed where the data is collected or processed with a person’s consent that is later withdrawn.
The proposed right is also subject to important exceptions. For example, it does not apply where it would conflict with the freedom of expression of journalists, or with freedom of artistic or literary expression. Claims that the proposal will stifle the press are therefore untrue – there is an express exception for journalists. There is also an exception for individuals engaged in purely personal or household activities.
The proposed right is some kind of subject that is too important for exceptions. For example it does not apply the conflict with the freedom of expression of journalists or with freedom of artistic or literary expression. The proposals will stifle the press therefore untrue- there is an express exception for journalists.
A couple of points should be made in response for claiming that the proposed right is a form of censorship. Privacy is not necessarily the opposite of freedom expression. If people feel they are assured they have some control over their information they are more likely to share it. On the other hand if people are aware they say and do online will be accessible for all time they may be more likely to self – censor. The negative consequences of the current internet changes that easily promote culture of conformity.
Secondly some steps indeed organized are being taken by people to manage the digital trails. Especially in the united states we have seen the emergence of reputation services which in return for a fee offer sanitize the internet of embarrassing or harmful information. Such services can have some great success. While approaching to websites we often simply take down information. It raises the spectre of private censorship. Why should people pay to protect their information.
Those who oppose the right to be forgotten are correct when they say getting the balance between privacy or freedom of expression. However people are often unaware of the consequences of the information provided to them. It this is preferable for this to be done in a law which incorporates appropriate checks and balances rather then being left to the vagaries of the unregulated market.
Arguments that a right for deleting information on the web is unworkable, it is true and due to the information, it is impossible or difficult to ensure the information can be erased. It is true that regulating the webspace is a real challenge, and it is important that laws do not infringe freedoms.
Like many laws the proposed “right to be forgotten” can be seen as an overall. The most it can do is restoring control to individuals, and providing check on some of harmful practices. Judicious laws are needed to protect individual rights, to ensure the effective operation of markets. It is more productive for debates to focus on the kind of laws and regulation that are desirable, rather than to resort to utopian fantasies of the internet as a regulation-free zone.
We grapple the challenges of technological change, public debate about the rules of regulating. People can disagree, our understanding of these issues is not helped by hostility to regulation, by alarmist and claims. Australia could do worse than to consider following the European example.