One of the many things people are getting angry about the ‘right to be forgotten’ is in the name… something that I’ve been banging on about for some years. I talk about the right quite a lot in my book Internet Privacy Rights… so I thought I’d just give a quick flavour of it. Here are a couple of paragraphs from Chapter 7:
“This idea of a right to delete is subtly but importantly different from the idea of a ‘right to be forgotten,’ as currently under discussion by European Regulators for inclusion in the forthcoming revision of the Data Protection regime. Quite how such a right might work in practice is still not entirely clear – but the connotations of the name of the right as well as the implications of its implementation are of concern and have been subject to criticism. A right to be forgotten looks like the rewriting or erasing of history, or a kind of censorship. The right to delete is about the control of data, not about censorship – and if properly understood and implemented is not in conflict with freedom of expression. It should not be seen as a way to rewrite or conceal history or as a tool for celebrities or politicians; it is rather a basic and pragmatic right available to all.
Equally importantly, a right to delete imposes different duties on different people that what might be understood by a right to be forgotten. It changes the rights being balanced, and the duties that are imposed on others: it is balanced against businesses’ ‘right’ to hold data rather than against individuals’ rights to remember. Of course we have the right to remember things – it is much more questionable whether businesses have a right to hold our personal data. We can impose duties (both moral and legal) on businesses to delete – but we can’t impose duties on people to forget.”
So far, we seem to be stuck with the name. I wish we weren’t… but we are. That shouldn’t, however, detract from the underlying issues.