The Guardian today featured two articles that bring home the risks of governmental policies and directives seeking to enforce the ‘right to forget’. One was about Britain (wisely) seeking to opt-out of EU’s data protection regulation that dictates the right for people to delete information from the Internet, such as an embarrassing photo. The other article is about the British Library archiving the Web, in collaboration with other main copyright libraries. With one hand, many governments are seeking ways to enable libraries to overcome restrictions, such as copyrights, to capture our cultural heritage, while with the other hand, many governments are imposing regulations that will make it easier to erase that history. In the name of privacy and data protection, governments are legitimizing their role in censoring the Internet and Web, and creating new threats to freedom of expression.
Erasing history is not only Orwellian and unfeasible, given the scale of the Web, but it will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression – ushering in a legitimate government role in censorship, even in liberal democratic societies. It is clearly an issue of Internet governance that any advocate of freedom of expression should not ignore. It will also create a legal swamp by expanding law and regulation in the privacy and data protection area that is already fraught with uncertainties, and arguably already covers any abuse of personal privacy that is the target of right to be forgotten rules.
My apologies for this brief position statement, but I have written more about this threat to expression in a UNESCO publication and a review in Science. If you think I may wish to forget that I wrote these words at some future date, you may want to save it on your computer.
Dutton, W. (2010), ‘Programming to Forget’, a review of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in Science, Vol. 327, 19 March: 1456. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/327/5972/1456-a
William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. Reprinted in 2013; Trans. In French and Arabic.
William H. Dutton (B.A. University of Missouri; M.A., PhD. SUNYBuffalo, 1974) is Professor of Internet Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College.