Right to Forget: Between Data Protection, Memory and Personal Life in the Digital Era

The embarrassing pictures we were tagged in ten years ago, the messages we've sent and received on our e-mail accounts, the chat record, the searches made through Google or Yahoo!, the online purchases, or information on our private lives posted by third parties on a portal; is it possible that Internet may ‘forget’ all that data?

A new essay [en] by the Freedom of Expression on the Internet Initiative from the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE, for its Spanish name) addresses the debate around the creation of a new “right to forget”, that might give back to individuals the control over their own information and, additionally, free them from their “digital past”.

This new right (or the broadening of the right of ‘habeas data’) would allow, for instance, for a firm to no longer possess certain information about someone, that certain pictures might be deleted from social networks, or that a search engine may exclude from its results false rumors that once affected that individual's reputation.

Image via Shutterstock. Copyright: Anneka

For those who criticize this proposal [en], this digital forgetfulness would suppose a problem for public interest issues: an officer that asks to delete a video where he accepts a bribe or a doctor trying to suppress a record about a professional malpractice, just to mention some examples.

This new essay by CELE aims to provide a general overview of the issue: it outlines a definition of the right to forget and its potential tension with other existing rights, it addresses its links with data protection or habeas data, and refers to some practical proposals to introduce some kind of forgetfulness in the digital landscape.

The document [pdf; es] notes:

Even though we point to reasons that make the discussion around the right to forget important, we don't pretend to assume the defense of it being implemented. We consider that, above all, it's important to understand the arguments at stake, to locate –especially- the different stances and to start to think about the issue from Latin America.

At the end of the paper CELE recommends, among other things, that when looking for solutions referring to digital forgetfulness, it's advisable to have in mind all the actors involved in Internet –starting from the users– and that the mechanisms to be implemented may be adjusted to international standards in topics such as freedom of expression and access to information.

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