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The right to be forgotten debate brings data privacy to the fore

The right to be forgotten, a new regulation in Europe, has people abuzz about whether erasing data from the Internet will open Pandora's box.

The right to be forgotten regulation, which was passed by the highest court in Europe, has caused a stir among proponents of an open Internet.

The right to be forgotten enables European citizens to lobby Google to remove links from search results that are "irrelevant" or "outdated." Since the decision passed in May, Google has been inundated with thousands of takedown requests.

There are questions about whether this kind of regulation makes sense, who could serve as decision maker on whether information can be removed, and so on. There is also worry that it could change the nature of the Web, which is predicated on the open exchange of information.

"Who really gets to decide that it is in fact irrelevant?" Sandra Serkes, president and founder of Valora Technologies, a search application software provider in Bedford, Massachusetts, said. "You could say, 'I no longer live at that address,' so that should be removed so that [information] is obsolete. But I'm going for a security clearance, and they need to know the past five places I've lived. Now it is relevant. So the context of who is asking about something or what the purpose is colors the decision about whether it is irrelevant and who gets to decide. This is where I foresee the biggest breakdown in this law. Who is the arbiter [of these decisions]?"

Even if a similar law never arrives stateside, the right to be forgotten has implications for data privacy, data management and the responsible stewardship of information. Companies should craft policies with an eye toward the implications of this regulation. Serkes discusses the possible ramifications of the right to be forgotten in this podcast.

This was last published in July 2014

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