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Europe’s Great Debate: The Right to Be Forgotten

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One of the hot topics in recent news is a concept in European courts about the “right to be forgotten.” The ruling, passed in May 2014, suggests that search engines must consider requests for removal of content that is, according to ZDNet, “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.” In some circles, this ruling is seen as controversial.

It almost feels like the concept is black and white, with two absolutes, but any business owner knows that nothing is absolute. Things are always more complicated than they seem, and this situation is no different. With the European courts giving way to this “right,” it might make other countries all around the world consider whether they also have the right to be forgotten, and whether or not search engines have the power to decide if information is still relevant. A good way to look at the two different arguments of this topic is to examine what ZDNet‘s staff have to say about the subject in their debate.

Everyone Has the Right to Be Forgotten
Obviously, this one argument is flawed. Let’s say that a criminal gets released from prison, but there is still information on the web about the crime, including news articles, prison records, interviews, and other incriminating information. This could potentially lead to difficulty assimilating into regular society once again.

The most viable argument for the right to be forgotten would probably be that this information is no longer “relevant,” as the criminal is no longer in prison–they’ve paid their debt to society. However, the definition of “relevant” is loose, and highly subjective to one’s own opinion.

Requests Should be Considered, but Not All Should Be Honored
The main concept of this argument is typically centered around a humanistic idea that people cannot get the big picture about someone by using Google’s search results. In fact, one of the biggest ideas behind this particular argument is that the right to be forgotten isn’t even a right, but a necessity – a difficult decision to make. This belief doesn’t necessarily defend the argument that we have the right to be forgotten, but it does state that the right is there, so to speak.

Let’s take the previously mentioned criminal. Perhaps the crime performed was against another individual. Both of these individuals want the news reports to disappear from the search results, but for different reasons. The criminal simply doesnt’ want to be… well, incriminated by them, while the victim doesn’t wish to be associated with the crime any longer. The criminal’s request shouldn’t be honored, while the victim’s should be. Again, this is entirely subjective, and opinions are bound to differ.

Nobody Has the Right to Be Forgotten
This particular argument appeals more to the aspect of forgetting found in human nature. People forget things over time. It can’t be helped. Humans can only hold so much memory at once, and that’s just how the brain is. Steve Ranger’s argument against the right to be forgotten reads like this:

… our human limitations, the accidents of our evolution, should not apply to our digital technology. It can implacably store everything, forever; the hardware might die but the data carefully can last forever. And as we record ever more data about our lives, it’s time we got used to it being permanent.

It’s foolish to think we can apply outmoded human expectations about what will be remembered and what will be forgotten in this new age.

Once again, entirely subjective to a particular individual’s beliefs. This is what makes the entire situation so difficult and controversial.

Do you believe we have a right to be forgotten, and if so, why? Let us know in the comments.

Date: September 3rd, 2014, Author: Jorge Rojas

Toronto IT Support  /  Tektonic Blog  /  IT Blog  /  Europe’s Great Debate: The Right to Be Forgotten