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The right to be forgotten is a topic discussed more in Europe than in the US. The core question is whether you have a right to control information about yourself that is held and published on the Internet by third parties.

This includes social media, news sites, discussion forums, search engine results, and web archives.

The information in question may be true or false, and anything from embarrassing to libelous.

 

Often discussions about removing old information center on calls for Google to remove information from their search results. I think they are chosen because they are the dominant search engine, and people feel that if the information is not shown in Google, then it is effectively gone. Of course, search engines are really just pointing to the actual data, while generally lives on some other website.

Being removed from Google does nothing to the existence of the information, nor would it impact indexing of that information by other search engines.

 

Even if you get the hosting website to remove the information, there are many organizations like archive.org who may have copied and archived the information, thus keeping it alive and available.

Here are some examples of information that you might want removed.

  • Racist rantings on an old social media site to which access has been lost.
  • Drunk party pictures on a friend’s social media account.
  • Newspaper articles about dubious business activities.
  • Court records of a conviction after the sentence has been completed.
  • Negative reviews on a review website.
  • Unflattering feedback on a dating website.

 

In many of these cases, your “right to be forgotten” runs directly into another person’s “right to free speech”.

 

My thinking on this is still evolving, and I would welcome your thoughts and feedback. Right now I think that the free speech right trumps the right to be forgotten except in specific situations which need to be legally carved out individually; things like limitations on how long credit information should be allowed to follow you. Of course, the problem will be that every country will draw these lines differently, making enforcement and compliance very difficult, and leading to opportunities for regulatory arbitrage.

 

We are already seeing this in the EU. While most of the EU is moving towards codifying a right to be forgotten, the UK is planning to opt out of that.

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Email Privacy Hearing Set To Go Before The House On Tuesday | WebProNews

The House Judiciary Committee is going to be discussing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. There is a chance that they will strengthen it.

This act was written decades ago, before there were any real cloud solutions. Email was downloaded by your email client, and immediately deleted from the server. They law assumed that any email left on a server more than 180 days had been abandoned, and so no warrant was required for law enforcement to obtain it.

These days, with services like gmail, we tend to keep our email on the servers for years, with no thought that it has been abandoned. Law enforcement is opposing reforms of this law because it would make their work more difficult. Doubtless it would, as does almost any civil liberty.

Earlier this month Zoe Lofgren introduced the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection act, amending ECPA. It would require a warrant to obtain cell phone location information. There is clearly some momentum for reform.

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House panel approves broadened ISP snooping bill | Privacy Inc. – CNET News

Declan McCullagh of CNET is reporting on a bill to require ISPs to maintain massive records on their users. According to the article this bill requires commercial Internet providers to retain “customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses”.

They are calling it the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″ in a flagrent attempt to make it politically difficult to vote against it even though the bill has noting directly to do with Internet pornography or protecting children.

Were this bill to become law, it might cause real problems for the growth of public Wi-Fi where there is no user authentication. That would be a huge leap backwards for a very possitive trend of late.

Of course, criminals will continue to be trivially able to circumvent such tracking efforts making this primarily a mechanism for gathering information on innocent persons without any hint of suspicion or probably cause.

It is absolutely un-American to require every citizen to submit to continuous tracking and monitoring on the possibility that some tiny fraction of us will commit a crime. Law enforcement always lobbies hard for such provisions. Make sure your voice is heard that you value your privacy and your rights.

Contact your Representitive and Senators if this is something you feel strongly about.

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Technology Firms Back Privacy Bill – WSJ.com

It looks like many technology companies recognize that the writing is on the wall and that some kind of consumer privacy legislation will come down the pipe at some point.

They are endorsing this one (with some suggested changes) because it adopts a self-regulatory program, rather than requiring specific actions.

It is a tricky balance. On the one hand self-regulation is notoriously ineffective and self serving. On the other hand, detailed regulation is almost always out dated before it is passed and does at least as much damage as good.

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