Online privacy is a serious concern for people all over the world. The European Commission proposed a new law in 2012 to protect online privacy. The European “Right to be Forgotten Law” is about to go into effect. Some feel this is a victory for privacy rights, but others are worried that it will violate free speech. This leaves many wondering if the law is the solution that we should be looking for.
Background of Right to Be Forgotten Law
A recent poll from Pew Research Center shows that 50% of Internet users are worried about information about them online. That figure has nearly doubled over the last five years. I am sure that the National Security Agency has played a large role in that problem.
The United States has provided few laws to help protect online privacy. In fact, the NSA’s spying on American citizens at home and abroad has left global citizens more paranoid than ever.
The European government has seemingly taken a more noble stance on privacy rights than the United States. They conceptualized a law that would allow citizens to remove embarrassing or libelous information about them. Well, they took some steps towards that goal. They crafted the “Right to Be Forgotten Law” in 2012, which would allow people to have information about them removed from Google. The law is finally being enacted and people can start requesting to have information removed from Google.
Implications of the New Law
How do people feel about this concept? We couldn’t find a poll on European feelings on the issue, but it is unlikely that such a law would be passed if it didn’t have considerable report. Polls from people in the United States and Canada show that such a law seems very high. A poll of about 300 people from the Toronto Sun found that about 67% of them felt that they should have the right to remove their information from the Internet. A similar poll from Fox Up found that about 88% of its readers felt the same way.
However, as with all changes, people may not have considered all of the implications. Many people feel that the Right to Be Forgotten Law will be a threat to free speech. Here are some issues that have been raised.
Who Owns the Content?
The European Right to Be Forgotten Law states that search engines must take down any information that you don’t like. However, it could be a step towards more wide reaching laws that would extend beyond the search engines. The new laws could require every site on the Internet to take down a post at someone’s request.
This begs a serious question – who actually owns the content? The fact that a picture has been taken of somebody doesn’t mean that they own the copyright to it. So do they have a right to demand to have it removed?
Public’s Right to Know
The new law could also put the public at risk. Convicted criminals could have records of their crimes removed from the search engines. Google recently reported that over half of the requests so far have been made by convicts. Unscrupulous business owners could also have bad reviews removed from their pages.
Aside from the right to free speech, the law also raises more practical problems. Government regulators would be forced to ensure the law was actually carried out. If Google or other search engines didn’t act in a timely manner, these people would probably take their concerns to these authorities. Ireland said that this law would fall under the scope of their Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. They said that the office is already struggling to deal with a number of other problems. How many taxpayer dollars would need to spent dealing with young people complaining that they wanted to erase evidence of their drunken night out? Aren’t there more important things for the government to be spending its resources on?
Europe Braces for New Changes
The new online privacy law seems to have broad support from many people across the world. However, there are also serious criticisms of it as well. Whether it is good or bad, one thing is certain. The law will impose sweeping changes on the European Union for years to come.