OneTrust_Square Banner_300x250_DD_ROS_01_19
Will the Right To Be Forgotten Lead to a Society That Was Forgotten?

The “right to be forgotten,” a fundamental part of the proposed reforms to the EU’s data protection legislation, is being watched closely by professionals in the archives world. From a bird’s eye view, this proposal would have an undeniable effect on the preservation of the individual and collective memory of society.

Although the rationale and intent of the proposal is based on increasing concerns over the impact of rapidly advancing and intrusive technologies on the lives of people, the implications for the appraisal, selection and preservation of records containing personal data over time are very real and will need to be carefully considered. This proposal must be reviewed with the understanding that archival records—records of enduring administrative, legal, fiscal, cultural, historical and intrinsic value—represent the essence of a society and provide glimpses into the past and lessons for future generations. Archives also protect individuals and society as a whole by ensuring there is evidence of accountability in individual and/or collective actions on a long-term basis. The erasure of such data may have a crippling effect on the advancement of a society as it relates to the knowledge required to move forward.

The proposal takes archivists outside of their “comfort zones” given their roles as the guardians of valuable evidence and information in records and “knowledge providers” for current and future research. Archivists are charged with preserving the characteristics of society—good and bad—in order to assist researchers with understanding the why, what, when and how. They seek to preserve three main elements in records: the content, the context and the structure of the information so no gaps, misinterpretations and/or misunderstandings exist in researchable materials. Their ability to select that information based on the acquired skill of archival appraisal will be impaired if that information, for whatever reason, has already been removed.

Although the principle behind the right to be forgotten is understood, a balance must be struck between protecting the rights of citizens and adequate data retention for research purposes. This will not be an easy task, and collaboration between privacy advocates and information management professionals, including archivists, will be absolutely critical in the quest for balance.

Other concerns about the current proposal include “data portability” and data ownership.

Traditionally, archivists have looked to the principle of provenance, which seeks to establish the true and rightful owner/creator of record(s). Establishing ownership helps provide context as to how and why information was captured. Additionally, the conditions under which information is preserved, shared and/or reproduced is tied to the wishes of the rightful owner/creator. In this new environment where information may be transferred from virtual place to place, the ownership of information is unclear. This would inevitably impact who has the right to erase data.

It will also be challenging to establish the original purpose behind the creation of the information. The chain of data custody will be broken, potentially leading to the destruction of its evidential quality and causing questions on the authenticity and integrity of the information.

Another key archival principal, “original order,” will no longer be applicable in this post-custodial environment where information is not static and subject to ever-changing arrangement and structure. Archivists are only now coming to grips with managing electronic records in structured electronic document and records management systems and must be prepared to extend their skill sets.

Also notable, the definition of “record” is also constantly changing. In the meantime, society’s new records and archives are under threat by the push of a button.

In the digital world, being “forgotten” is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. The question may be asked as to whether people want to be completely forgotten. With the dramatic increase in users on social media sites, the evidence may suggest that individuals are less and less concerned about being totally forgotten and in fact seem to want to leave their mark, digitally or otherwise.

More attention should instead be paid to educating individuals to ensure that the record they create on themselves is one they wish to be left behind. Control of data at the point of creation is far more manageable than trying to control data after records capture. This also means individuals should be encouraged to monitor records created on them by organisations, both public and private.

Archivists would like to continue to preserve the hopes, aspirations, achievements and, wherever necessary, downfalls of the people to provide lessons to society. From the preservation of writings on the great pharaohs to the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors as well as the ordinary man and woman, archivists recognise that without the actions and ideas of people, both individually and collectively, life would be meaningless. Society only benefits from the actions and ideas of people when they are recorded, preserved for posterity and made available. Consequently, the “right to be forgotten” if not properly executed, may lead to “the society that was forgotten.”

Written By

Cherri-Ann Beckles


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

  • John Kropf May 14, 2013

    The right to be forgotten is a very blunt instrument for achieving a limited purpose.  Compare this to the traditional FIPs notions of data minimization: only collect what you need and retain it for only as long as you need for the purpose for which it was collected.  The FIPs can be implemented to acheive a more tailored approach.  A question for another day is whether such policy goals should be elevated to the status of a right.
  • Irina Raicu May 15, 2013

    As proposed in Europe, the "right to be forgotten" legislation includes several exceptions intended to deal with the issues raised in this article. It would be more useful to grapple with the actual proposal, rather than its overbroad title. Similarly, statements like "the evidence may suggest that individuals are less and less concerned about being totally forgotten" are attacks against a straw man.  Nobody is claiming that people want to be "totally forgotten"--and studies have in fact shown that most users of social media a) have very little understanding of the traces they leave behind, and b) as they learn more about that, they actually try to limit and control those traces: precisely what the "right to be forgotten" seeks to allow them to do.
  • Name May 15, 2013

  • Alan LAmbert Jun 13, 2013

    Unfortunately I came across this article via a blog recommendation as the most important essay on the Right to be Forgotten that the blogger had read. It is nothing of the sort. It is simply a rehash of already aired and refuted hysterical panics by, usually American, advocates of a mythical Freedom of Expression led world. It is NOT about rewriting history it IS about the control of how citizens of Europe will be able to rehabilitate themselves or re-shape their identities in an internet driven world that never sleeps and never forgets. The reading list required tyo get a full grasp of this matter is extensive and has obviously been misssed by the author of this 'essay' but I would start with viktor mayer-schönberger's Delete - a seminal work.


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 »

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

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 a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Talk privacy and network with local members at IAPP KnowledgeNet Chapter meetings, taking place worldwide.

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.

The Privacy Core™ Library Has Evolved

Privacy Core™ e-learning essentials just expanded to include seven new units for marketers. Keep your data safe and your staff in the know!

Online Privacy Training

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

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.

Let’s Get You DPO Ready

There’s no better time to train than right now! We have all the resources you need to meet the challenges of the GDPR.

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

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.


The IAPP’S CIPP/E and CIPM are the ANSI/ISO-accredited, industry-recognized combination for DPO readiness. Learn more today.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Are You Ready for the GDPR?

Check out the IAPP's EU Data Protection Reform page for all the tools and resources you need.

IAPP-OneTrust PIA Platform

New U.S. Government Agency privacy impact assessments - free to IAPP members!

IAPP Communities

Meet locally with privacy pros, dive deep into specialized topics or connect over common interests. Find your Community in KnowledgeNet Chapters, Sections and Affinity Groups.

Privacy Vendor List

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

More Resources »

Europe Data Protection Intensive 2017

The Intensive is sold out! But cancellations do happen—so hurry and get on the wait list in case more seats become available.

Global Privacy Summit 2017

The world’s premier privacy conference returns with the sharpest minds, unparalleled programs and preeminent networking opportunities.

Canada Privacy Symposium 2017

The Symposium returns to Toronto this spring and registration has opened! Take advantage of Early Bird rates and join your fellow privacy pros for another stellar program.

The Privacy Bar Section Forum 2017

The Privacy Bar Section Forum is sold out! But you can still add your name to the wait list, and we'll keep in touch about your status. Good luck!

Asia Privacy Forum 2017

Call for Speakers open! Join the Forum in Singapore for exclusive networking and intensive education on data protection trends and challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

Privacy. Security. Risk. 2017

Call for Speakers open! This year, we're bringing P.S.R. to San Diego. Submit today and be a part of something big! Submission deadline: February 26.

Europe Data Protection Congress 2017

Call for Speakers open! The Congress is your source for European policy debate, multi-level strategic thinking and thought-provoking discussion. Submit a proposal by March 19.

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»