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The right to be forgotten? What about the right to remember?

Very often there are certain developments in the world that just make me blankly stare in front of me and go “Wow…” while my mind desperately tries to cope with the astronomical amounts of stupidity it’s suddenly being confronted with.

Such was the experience I had when I first read about “the right to be forgotten” — a concept that’s based on the European Data Protection Directive meant to regulate the processing of personal data. Judges in the European Court of Justice used that directive to justify an individual’s request to remove publicly available — and lawfully obtained and published — personal information. Without a doubt those judges have got to be some of the most stupid people on this planet.

I seriously wonder if they asked themselves how such a ruling could realistically be implemented and what kind of dangerous and far reaching consequences this would have for civilization in the future. This ruling actually gives people the ability to start censoring history. How could anyone in their right mind think that this is a good idea? Obviously the only people who would want such a thing are those who want negative facts about themselves, or the crimes they’ve committed in the past, erased from history. And ironically those cases have only received even more exposure online precisely because of the request that they be forgotten. In the case of Mario Costeja González, I’m sure that everyone now knows that his house had been auctioned in 1998 to recover his social security debts, because of all the publicity it’s now getting:

The test case privacy ruling by the European Union’s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.

Way to go, you fucking moron. Now the whole world knows about what you tried to hide, plus you’ve created a precedent for allowing the censorship of history. Thanks a lot.

Here are some more examples of how this stupid “right to be forgotten” concept is being abused:

When you Google someone from within the EU, you no longer see what the search giant thinks is the most important and relevant information about an individual. You see the most important information the target of your search is not trying to hide.

Stark evidence of this fact, the result of a European court ruling that individuals had the right to remove material about themselves from search engine results, arrived in the Guardian’s inbox this morning, in the form of an automated notification that six Guardian articles have been scrubbed from search results.

The first six articles down the memory hole – there will likely be many more as the rich and powerful look to scrub up their online images, doubtless with the help of a new wave of “reputation management” firms – are a strange bunch.

Three of the articles, dating from 2010, relate to a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee, Dougie McDonald, who was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a Celtic v Dundee United match, the backlash to which prompted his resignation.

Anyone entering the fairly obvious search term “Dougie McDonald Guardian” into google.com – the US version of Google – will see three Guardian articles about the incident as their first results.

Type the exact same phrase into Google.co.uk, however, and the articles have vanished entirely. McDonald’s record is swept clean.

It’s like Index on Censorship mentioned:

The court’s ruling means that, under certain circumstances, information can be removed from search engine results even if it is true and factual and without the original source material being altered. It allows individuals to complain to search engines about information they do not like with no legal oversight. This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books. Although the ruling is intended for private individuals it opens the door to anyone who wants to whitewash their personal history.

By placing the onus on search engines to prevent dissemination of information, the Court has said that an individual’s desires outweigh society’s interest in the complete facts around incidents.

The ruling goes against the finding last year of the EU advocate general who said there was no “right to be forgotten”.

The Court’s decision is a retrograde move that misunderstands the role and responsibility of search engines and the wider internet. It should send chills down the spine of everyone in the European Union who believes in the crucial importance of free expression and freedom of information.

Today it’s search engines and websites that are impacted by this stupid “right to be forgotten” ruling, but what will happen in the future when technology becomes so advanced that it becomes possible to erase certain information directly from people’s own memories? Would such a law still be enforced? What if the future that Dr. Ray Kurzweil envisions, where an individual can choose to store some of his memory in the cloud, becomes reality? Would the company behind the cloud storage service be marked as a “data controller” under the European Data Protection Directive, and be forced to delete people’s memories?

Before approving such a boneheaded “right to be forgotten” concept, did the people responsible think about everyone’s right to remember? I think everyone’s personal and collective right to remember information that became publicly available, certainly stands above any individual’s right to be forgotten. A single individual’s personal right to be forgotten can never outweigh our collective personal rights to remember!! And our right to remember doesn’t only involve the biological capabilities of our bodies, but also any technology that can be used to assist and augment our capabilities to remember, including any external databases and other files that help us to remember things. These can be personally maintained by an individual or by a third party for groups of individuals. And remembering isn’t just limited to the information an individual previously had in his own consciousness, but also includes information in our collective human consciousness that’s just now starting to come online — the Global Brain.

Without this right to remember humankind would never have gotten where it is today, and indeed, it’s precisely because of this right and capability to remember, and especially the fact that we can now enhance our capabilities to quickly and efficiently remember using technology (such as Google’s search engine, Wikipedia etc. — the Global Brain in short), that we’ve gotten into a position now where we can start to solve many of the problems we’ve been struggling with for thousands of years. The “right to be forgotten” concept not only has the potential to stiffen the progress we’ve been making, but also to do serious damage to the progress we’ve already made.

Fortunately it does seem like there are enough intelligent people still around who see the absurdity of the “right to be forgotten”. The House of Lords EU Home Affairs, Health and Education Sub-Committee of the UK parliament recently had the following to say about this:

“The expression, ‘right to be forgotten’ is misleading. Information can be made more difficult to access, but it does not just disappear. Anyone anywhere in the world now has information at the touch of a button, and that includes detailed personal information about people in all countries of the globe. Neither the 1995 Directive, nor the CJEU’s interpretation of it, reflects the incredible advance in technology that we see today.

We believe that the judgment of the Court is unworkable. It does not take into account the effect the ruling will have on smaller search engines which, unlike Google, are unlikely to have the resources to process the thousands of removal requests they are likely to receive.

It is also wrong in principle to leave search engines themselves the task of deciding whether to delete information or not, based on vague, ambiguous and unhelpful criteria. We heard from witnesses how uncomfortable they are with the idea of a commercial company sitting in judgment on issues like that.

There are compelling arguments that, in the new Regulation, search engines should not be classed as data controllers. We do not believe that individuals should be able to have links to accurate and lawfully available information about them removed, simply because they do not like what is said.

It is incredibility difficult for legislation to keep up or ‘future proof’ the unforeseen leaps that technology is bound to make.  We do, however, need to ensure that the next Regulation does not attempt to give individuals rights which are unenforceable.” 

Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has also spoken out against this absurd ruling by the European Court of Justice:

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales today warned the ruling was tantamount to “censoring history” and “the start of a “very dangerous path to go down”.


“I would say the biggest problem we have is that the law seems to indicate Google needs to censor links to information that is clearly public – links to articles in legally published, truthful news stories.

“That is a very dangerous path to go down, and if we want to go down a path where we are going to be censoring history, there is no way we should leave a private company like Google in charge of making those decisions.”

It’s also important to note that Google themselves aren’t happy with the ruling:

Google said: “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the advocate general’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Like Wales said, this is a very dangerous path to go down, and I think that the ruling by the European Court of Justice must be reversed as soon as possible.


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