I read that the first Wikipedia page has been lost to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rulings – and like #DRIP (more here, here and here) after it, I’m afraid that very little has been thought through at the moment of its conceptualisation.
Many have written well and hard about how incompatible this “right” has to be with a modern representative democracy. But then many have observed – just as equally – how incompatible with true democracy our current manifestation happens to be. And as Paul Bernal pointed our a while ago, little in this life is ever a complete disaster or a triumph:
On a slightly different tack, criminals and scammers have always been able to cover their tracks – and will still be able to. The old cat-and-mouse game between people wanting to hide their identity and people wanting to uncover those hiding them will still go on. The ‘right to be forgotten’ won’t do anything to change that.
But as is my wont, I’m sometimes inclined to a rather curious impulse to run with an idea – and instead of looking to rebut its founding principles, I aim – rather – to take full advantage of it.
So what exactly am I getting at? If the “right to be forgotten” becomes firmly established as a principle of modern democracy, and I’m pretty sure this will eventually be the case, why not use it as a precedent to establish further protections? For example, whilst people with sordid private pasts – who, nevertheless, have the moral right of us all to keep these private lives private – may use such rulings to rub out from easy public view historically negative images of their selves, and so make the rest of society, democratic citizen and all, “forget” what the mainstream media once sold millions of copies on the back of, if we are to continue to build societies of the just and equal, surely we must contemplate that modest private citizens – alongside those scandalously public figures – should have a similar opportunity to choose what may be remembered or not about themselves too.
And if this is the case, perhaps they should also have an opportunity to choose who may remember or forget. “Who?” you blurt out. “Yes, who!” I respond (I have to admit curiously with an exclamation mark …).
Anyhow. If all citizens are equal, and the smallest unsliceable atom of existence of the state is a citizen too, in the figure of a civil servant of some kind or another, and the “right to be forgotten” gives to all citizens the right to be forgotten by all citizens, why cannot one day we contemplate using such a precedent to demand that the state – in its many surveilling instincts (#DRIP not the least of them, as already observed on these pages) – also learns how to forget us in some analogous way?
Don’t battle to remove the “right to be forgotten” from the list of cack-handed 21st century assumptions but use it, instead, to widen the application of such principles to other areas of endeavour. If, for example, it should exist amongst the citizens of a country, it should also exist amongst the relationships which the aforesaid citizens of that country have with large companies and government bodies various (especially as those who support corporate organisation are always arguing they are mostly equal to their flesh-and-blood equivalents anyway).
And so a circle of balance could be re-established: we wouldn’t only choose to be forgotten to reset our unhappy private mistakes but also to recover our privacy from an ever-encroaching dragnet of behaviours.
An afterthought: remember when Google dismantled Reader (more here)? In the light of the European ruling on the “right to be forgotten”, it hasn’t half played into the hands of those who wish to better control the flow of the information. That people should be accustomed by virtual force to use Facebook, Twitter or Google+ in the absence of the far less subjective RSS is, of course, a coincidence I am sure. But a coincidence, in any case, worth contemplating – especially in relation to its impact on how easy it may now become to make such information invisible.
For a wider usage of RSS would have guaranteed better the permanence of controversial content. That companies as big as Google have done their best to woo people away from it – or, minimally, have refused to promote its technologies – is therefore if not suspicious, a tad unhappy at the very least.
Don’t you think?
Update to this post: this, from the Independent, has just come my way. Fascinating, and relevant, stuff.