PSR16_WebBanner_300x250-wCopy
iapp-privacycore
PrivacyTraining_ad300x250.Promo1-01
Maybe We Need “A Right To Be Forgiven”

Among the most controversial provisions within the proposed EU data protection regulation is “the right to be forgotten.”  The proposal, which would allow individuals to remove data companies have collected about them online unless the company can demonstrate a legitimate need, has elicited concerns from industry about its potential effects on both innovation and free speech. Others have said the provision would simply be unenforceable.

Internet co-founder Vint Cerf has called the provision impractical, saying it’s “very, very hard to get the Internet to forget things that you don’t want it to remember” and suggests, when it comes to protecting ones’ reputation in perpetuity online, that parents engage their children in “the art of critical thinking” instead.

While EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding has said the provision must be balanced with other rights protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, there has been significant pushback, especially from industry and U.S. diplomats. Additionally, whether the provision is even technically feasible has been hotly debated.

Whether European Parliament includes the proposal as it stands within the final version of the new regulation remains to be seen. But maybe philosophically this provision goes much deeper than the deletion of online data.

Maybe the perceived need for its existence says something significant about our humanity.

During a recent conversation about the proposal, Hogan Lovells’ Harriet Pearson, CIPP/US, recently suggested to me that perhaps what we as a global society need more than a right to be forgotten is a “right to be forgiven.”

“The right to be forgotten can work in certain instances, but there are lots of reasons why data can’t be erased,” Pearson says. “Maybe society can functionally address some of the issues here, some of what motivates the desire for the right to be forgotten, by also taking steps to champion and preserve over time the American approach to forgiveness.”

America has a long history of allowing an individual who has made a mistake to overcome it with either the passing of time or redemption, Pearson says. For example, a person who makes poor financial choices may declare bankruptcy, and after seven years, the filing is expunged from public records. In a prior era, a person whose reputation had been tarnished could pick up and move to a new place where starting over was possible. In an interconnected, information-rich age, the analog to “starting over” might be widespread agreement that an individual’s harmless-enough online activities are “off limits” to inform any consequential decision about the person.

Pearson says realistically data may not ever be deleted from every nook and cranny on the Web. But there are other ways to respect an individual’s autonomy and privacy.

“Maybe what we should be debating and making stronger is our right to be forgiven,” she says.

At the IAPP Privacy Academy in San Jose last October, John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested that in a more transparent world, one in which we’re able to see each other’s figurative bumps and bruises, maybe we’ll become more tolerant of each other, realizing that “we’re all a bit weirder than we imagined.” Perhaps the searchable online histories feared to tarnish our reputations and brand us as the mistakes we once made will in fact humanize us to each other as the fallible creatures we are. In that way, our differences become a connecting link.

I was reminded of the importance of difference—what we might perceive as “strange” when compared to our notion of “normal,” when I recently returned to Uruguay 30 years after I’d been an exchange student there. Immersed again into a culture so different from my own, I was reminded of the beauty and awe that exists in difference; that it’s something to be revered and celebrated rather than feared.

Maybe our vulnerabilities, our weirdness, our differences displayed transparently to each other online become a celebration of both the diversity and the sameness that exist within our humanness. Maybe we become more tolerant.

Is it possible that a stronger sense of humanity could come from a data-driven, more transparent society?

We’d love to hear what you think.

Written By

J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP/US

1 Comment

If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.

  • Karn Jani Apr 10, 2013

    One can only ask for forgiveness and then be patient for others to respond. Demanding a 'right to be forgiven' seems very unrealistic. It’s true that 'right to be forgotten' would have to be read in the same tone as a right to be forgiven, but forgiveness comes with repentance and patience. Such emotions can’t be displayed in the digital world. This limitation marks the difference between us as human and Internet as only a technological development. One must seek forgiveness through his/her offline behavior and demand to be forgotten as far as online past is concerned. That would put both the rights in perspective.

Related

Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

NEW! Raise Staff Awareness

Equip all your data-handling staff to reduce privacy risk, with Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

Upcoming Web Conferences

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Team

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

NEW! FIP Designation

Recognizing the advanced knowledge and issue-spotting skills a privacy pro must attain in today’s complex world of data privacy.

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Schooled in Privacy

Looking to get some higher-ed in privacy? Check out these schools that include data privacy courses in their curricula.

Privacy Vendor List

Find a privacy vendor to meet your needs with our filterable list of global service providers.

NEW! Raise Staff Awareness

Equip all your data-handling staff to reduce privacy risk, with Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials.

The Industry of Privacy

Take stock, compare your practices to those of other organizations, and get budget with these studies on the industry of privacy.

More Resources »

P.S.R.—One Powerhouse Program

The program is too good to miss. The speakers are world-renowned. P.S.R. brings you the best of the best in privacy and security. Don't wait: Register now!

Speak at the Intensive!

The call for proposals for our London event, the Data Protection Intensive, is now open! Submit your session idea today.

Time to Get to Work at the Congress

Thought leadership, a thriving community and unrivaled education...the Congress prepares you for the challenges ahead. Register today.

GDPR Comprehensive London: Last Chance!

The IAPP GDPR Comprehensive heads to London this fall. This is your last chance at this popular program this year!

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»