In 2014 a European court sided with a Spanish man attempting to have links to a negative story about him removed from the online search engine Google. Invoking a version of what's known as the "right to be forgotten," the European Union Court of Justice said that citizens have the right to ask that links be removed if they contain information that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant." Should we have the same right to be forgotten in the US?
Proponents of a right to be forgotten claim that, for privacy reasons, search engines should have to remove outdated or extremely personal information from their search results. “It’s about privacy and dignity,” says Michael Fertik the founder of Reputation.com, a company that helps customers clean up their online information. “If Sony or Disney wants fifty thousand videos removed from YouTube, Google removes them with no questions asked. If your daughter is caught kissing someone on a cell-phone home video, you have no option of getting it down. That’s wrong. The priorities are backward."
Proponents further argue that privacy is not only a human right, but an essential component of autonomy. In other words, the space protected by privacy is the only space in which human endeavor can flourish. Far from being a tool of censorship, the right to be forgotten is the only protection we have against self-censorship. And since the obligation to remove applies only to the links posted by search engines, it does not trample on the rights of internet content creators, such as media outlets, who are still free to publish information as they see fit.
Opponents argue that the right to be forgotten is a major abridgment not only of the right to speak but also of the right to acquire information. Such a “right” essentially amounts to government-mandated censorship. As a Bloomberg editorial put it: "Airbrushing history, even with the best of intentions, is almost always a very bad idea…And such a sweeping new right is sure to have unintended consequences – for starters, by potentially depriving the public of useful information."
In addition, opponents contend the right to be forgotten will place an overly complex and costly imposition on search-engine companies. What requests should be honored? Which denied? On what basis? How does one distinguish illegitimate from legitimate requests? When should the public interest trump the right to be forgotten? Who makes that decision? How will disputes be arbitrated? The sheer volume of requests to remove links would likely overwhelm the ability of search engines to property evaluate requests, leading to inconsistent and arbitrary compliance,
So what do you think? Should Americans have a right to be forgotten to protect their privacy and dignity? Or would it infringe on other more essential rights? Is the trade-off worth it? Why? Why not?