US lawyer criticises principle of right to be forgotten

A US lawyer has criticised the right-to-be-forgotten principle enshrined in proposed data privacy regulations for the European Union

A US lawyer has criticised the principle of the right to be forgotten, enshrined in proposed data privacy regulations for the European Union.

The proposed EC data privacy regulations – which seek to harmonise privacy laws across the 27 EU member states – require sites to respond quickly to requests by individuals to delete their information or face hefty fines.

The proposals could transform Google, for example, from a neutral platform into a censor-in-chief for the EU, according to Jeffrey Rosen, professor at Stanford University.

Rosen believes the fear of fines will have a chilling effect. He said the regulations will be hard to enforce across the internet when information is widely disseminated.

“Although EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding depicted the new right as a modest expansion of existing data privacy rights, in fact it represents the biggest threat to free speech on the internet in the coming decade,” he wrote in the Stanford Law Review.

“Unless the right is defined more precisely when it is promulgated over the next year or so, it could precipitate a dramatic clash between European and American conceptions of the proper balance between privacy and free speech, leading to a far less open Internet,” he said.

"The proposed regulations create a legally enforceable right to demand the deletion of any photos or data that I post myself, even after they’ve gone viral, not to mention unflattering photos that include me or information about me that others post, whether or not it is true,” said Rosen.

He raises the further concern that the proposed regulation “treats takedown requests for truthful information posted by others identically to takedown requests for photos I’ve posted myself that have then been copied by others.”

He warns that if the regulations are implemented in their current form, “it is hard to imagine that the internet that results will be as free and open as it is now.”

Increasing concerns in Europe and elsewhere about online privacy has given rise to websites and browser plug-ins that rate websites that track users.

Privacy Score, for example, rates a website based on how likely it is to pass on a user’s data, and how many other companies will be tracking people through that site.  

Google and Twitter are given grades of 85 and 95 respectively, reflecting their concerns for user's privacy, according to The Telegraph. The average score across all the sites graded so far is 73.

The site, however, also warns that it is unable to assess what third-party apps on sites such as Facebook may do with a user’s data.

Privacy Score says its service is provided “to help solve a big problem for web users: how to understand the privacy risks they take every day online”. It claims the service will also raise awareness of privacy among site owners and internet users.

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