Posted at 12:23 PM ET, 04/20/2011

Should we have a right to be forgotten online?


(Photo from blog.mydigitalfootprint.com)
Spain’s Data Protection Agency has caved to the demands of 90 Spaniards who demand that old Internet references about them be wiped away.

The legislation, proposed by the European Union last year, is called the “Right to be Forgotten,” and it means any online information about a person that’s easily Googled — information ranging from the banal to the embarrassing — can be erased.

Google has decided to challenge the orders and has appealed five cases so far this year to the National Court, the Associated Press reported.

One man who wants to be forgotten is plastic surgeon Hugo Guidotti. When Guidotti is searched, the first link that pops up on Google is for his clinic, complete with photos of a big-breasted woman and a muscular man to show off plastic surgery results.

But the second link takes readers to a 1991 story in Spain’s popular El Pais newspaper about a woman who sued him for $7.2 million for a breast job that she said went bad. Guidotti, who was later acquitted, is fighting Google to take that link down.

There are countless people who have been hurt by negative content that shows up when their name is Googled.

An angry teenage girl turned her ex-boyfriend into a meme by uploading his photo more than 60 times to Google with funny but vengeful captions underneath. His mother sent a plea to Google to take the photos down.

Former GOP senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is plagued to this day by the unprintable sexual meaning sex-advice columnist Dan Savage gave Santorum’s name in 2003. (Savage was reacting to controversial comments the senator made about homosexuality.)

The sexual neologism still often comes up before the senator on Google, and some say it may have contributed to 2006 Santorum’s Senate defeat.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose name was once returned on Google when a French expletive was used in the search field, has said of the bill:

Regulating the Internet to correct the excesses and abuses that come from the total absence of rules is a moral imperative!

But does a mother’s plea, the effect on a senator race, and a president’s anger mean the content should be taken down?

Many argue that it doesn’t.

Google, for one, says “the Right to be Forgotten” violates the “objectivity” of the Internet.

The Guardian’s Tessa Mayes, in an article titled “We have no right to be forgotten,” wrote:

Being forgotten might sound appealing for some, but making a right out of it degrades the concept of rights. Instead of being something that embodies the relationship between the individual and society, it pretends that relationship doesn’t exist. The right to be forgotten is a figment of our imaginations.

Martin Abrams, a policy director with leading global privacy think tank Hunton and Williams, told the Atlantic:

It's almost absurd to say we have the right to disappear from public domain. We're really talking about the right not to be observed in the first place.

Others have argued that it could have chilling consequences for our historical record.

What do you think? Do we have a right to be forgotten?

By  |  12:23 PM ET, 04/20/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company