John Nosta: THINKOLOGY The Intersection of Thought, Creativity and Inspiration


Thoughts on Digital Privacy: The Right to be Forgotten

The cybersphere is very unforgiving.

The things that you, your family, friends and even enemies post are burned into the digital fabric of life.  Forever.  And beyond the simple image lies richer information that can often include dates and locations.  What emerges is your digital footprint.  Something not unlike your physical fingerprint.

Our constitution guarantees us the right to privacy.  But is there another less explicit right--the right to be forgotten?

Europeans and Americans have diametrically opposed approaches to the problem. In Europe, the intellectual roots of the right to be forgotten can be found in French law, which recognizes le droit à l’oubli—or the “right of oblivion”—a right that allows a convicted criminal who has served his time and been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration. In America, by contrast, publication of someone’s criminal history is protected by the First Amendment.

Recently, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, announced the European Commission’s proposal to create a sweeping new privacy right—the “right to be forgotten.” The right, which has been hotly debated in Europe for the past few years, has finally been codified as part of a broad new proposed data protection regulation. Although 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. The right to be forgotten could make Facebook and Google, for example, liable for up to two percent of their global income if they fail to remove photos that people post about themselves and later regret, even if the photos have been widely distributed already. 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.

But I wonder if there really is a European Union or a United States?  And is the "clash" more of a "mash" 

From my vantage point--my computer--I see the world less as individual countries and more as a seamless connection of people and ideas.  Nevertheless, the conflict on data, free speech and general internet freedom will not go away.  And as technology advances, the issues will be come even more critical and controversial.

Some common sense suggestions.

It's just so simple--the touch of a button and your life can be changed.  I've been impressed with Common Sense  Media.  The offer up some practical suggestions to address the issues of digital privacy and safety for parents and children.

Internet safety goes way beyond protecting kids from strangers or blocking inappropriate content. It's about helping your kids use the Internet productively and practice safe responsible online behavior even when you're not there to watch them.

The more time your kids spend online, the more they will see, watch, play, read, and interact. And the more those experiences will contribute to their worldview -- and maybe their own self-image. Getting involved in your kids' online life is the key to helping them reap the benefits while minimizing the negatives.

Think twice, click once.

The best steps toward privacy and "the right to be forgotten" may be just to avoid the necessity in the first place.  Our compulsion to "like" something, our drive to impress our friends, our need to be the first and our human desire to reveal ourselves (in so many ways!) should be tempered with a simple question:  WHAT IF?  The "what if" rule can help frame up our actions with a bit of common sense.  It's not the end all, but it can give us a moment of pause and reflection.  And that pause can help you avoid the need to be forgotten--whether it's a right or not!


Keep thinking and follow me on Twitter and visit my other blog HEALTH CRITICAL on Forbes.



1.  Jeffrey Rosen Professor of Law, The George Washington University Legal Affairs Editor, The New Republic.

2.  Attitudes on Data Protection and Electronic--Identity in the European Union.

3.  Common Sense  Media