The Best Essay on ‘The Right to be Forgotten’ That You Will Read This Year

by on May 15, 2013 · 2 comments

The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has been running some terrific guest essays on its Privacy Perspectives blog lately. (I was honored to be asked to submit an essay to the site a few weeks ago about the ongoing Do Not Track debate.) Today, the IAPP has published one of the most interesting essays on the so-called “right to be forgotten” that I have ever read. (Disclosure: We’ve written a lot here about this issue here in the past and have been highly skeptical regarding both the sensibility and practicality of the notion. See my Forbes column, “Erasing Our Past on the Internet,” for a concise critique.)

In her fascinating and important IAPP guest essay, archivist Cherri-Ann Beckles asks, “Will the Right To Be Forgotten Lead to a Society That Was Forgotten?” Beckles, who is Assistant Archivist at the University of the West Indies, powerfully explains the importance of archiving history and warns about the pitfalls of trying to censor history through a “right to be forgotten” regulatory scheme. She notes that archives “protect individuals and society as a whole by ensuring there is evidence of accountability in individual and/or collective actions on a long-term basis. The erasure of such data may have a crippling effect on the advancement of a society as it relates to the knowledge required to move forward.”

She concludes by arguing that:

From the preservation of writings on the great pharaohs to the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors as well as the ordinary man and woman, archivists recognise that without the actions and ideas of people, both individually and collectively, life would be meaningless. Society only benefits from the actions and ideas of people when they are recorded, preserved for posterity and made available. Consequently, the “right to be forgotten” if not properly executed, may lead to “the society that was forgotten.”

Importantly, Beckles also stresses the importance of individual responsibility and taking steps to be cautious about the digital footprints they leave online. “More attention should instead be paid to educating individuals to ensure that the record they create on themselves is one they wish to be left behind,” she notes. “Control of data at the point of creation is far more manageable than trying to control data after records capture.”

Anyway, read the whole essay. It is very much worth your time.

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