Why Can’t Europe Just Forget The Ridiculous Idea Of A ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

We’ve talked about what a dumb idea a “right to be forgotten” is in the past, and yet, Europe keeps looking into just such a law. A leaked copy of the EU’s new Data Protect Directive includes a clear “right to be forgotten” initiative:

To strengthen the ‘right to be forgotten’ in the online environment, the right to erasure should also be extended in such a way that any publicly available copies or replications in websites and search engines should also be deleted by the controller who has made the information public.

Basically, if there’s any information about you online — even information you created yourself and posted online directly — that you suddenly decide shouldn’t be online any more, you can demand its removal. This is pretty ridiculous for a variety of reasons. While it’s positioned as a form of “privacy,” that’s insane. There’s no “privacy” in information you’ve already released publicly. Pretending that the information can just “disappear” is fantasy-land thinking by EU politicans.

Failing to delete the info in question can lead to rather large fines, up to 1% of a company’s revenue. As someone who runs an American company, this bill is particularly worrisome to me. Because of an agreement between the US and the EU, if we allow anyone from Europe to use Techdirt, we have to promise to follow standard privacy practices that meet EU standards and pay some company a yearly fee to make sure we’re in compliance. We’ve done this (even though I’m sure that many, if not most, American websites ignore this rule). But now I need to go explore if this means we would have to delete any old comments from Europeans. As a rule and policy, we do not delete old comments from Techdirt. We get requests from time to time (and every so often a legal threat), but we stand by our policy. If suddenly we have to worry about massive fines from Europe just because someone regrets what they said in a comment years ago, I’m not sure what we’ll do. At the very least, we’d have to explore banning comments from Europeans on the site.

What really gets me about this is that the entire “right to be forgotten” doesn’t seem to serve any legitimate purpose, other than to pretend that you can somehow delete public information that you later regret. I can’t see how that solves any public policy issue, other than that people sometimes regret what they say or do. But out here, in the real world, people learn to get over such things, not to pretend the world is some magical fantasy land where they can delete history.

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