Should the U.S. Follow European Lead in Adapting “Right To Be Forgotten”?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 30 2012 5:43 PM

Should the U.S. Follow European Lead in Adapting “Right To Be Forgotten”?

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EU Commissioner Viviane Reding introduced new rules on Internet privacy at the DLD conference in Munich, Germany.

Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images

The new issue of the Economist describes the potential challenges posed by different countries’ perspectives on privacy and data collection. The starkest difference is between the United States, where people are somewhat sanguine about digital companies collecting their information, and Europe, where there is a stronger preference for privacy. Furthermore, while the U.S. is (for now) largely allows companies to self-regulate, Europe is on the verge of instituting strict new requirements—including the “right to be forgotten.”

Under the European Union’s new legal framework, expected to be implemented in 2016,

Users can not only request that a company show what data it holds on them; they can also demand that it deletes all copies. Critics say this is impractical, vague, and over-ambitious. It is hard to say where one man’s data end and another’s begin. And once something is online, it is virtually impossible to ensure that all copies are deleted. Small firms will struggle; even big ones will find the planned penalties steep.
Even more contentiously, the directive covers any firm that does business with Europeans, even if it is based outside the EU. America’s Department of Commerce sent the Commission a strong 15-page protest, saying that the directive “could hinder commercial interoperability while unintentionally diminishing consumer privacy protection”. … For the global digital economy, differences in privacy laws are a kind of trade barrier and a costly brake on innovation.
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Businesses in the Europe have criticized the new policy; “"This is just an additional tax on all businesses which hold electronic customer records,” one man told the BBC last week. Nevertheless, perhaps the United States could follow the European lead here and offer the “right to be forgotten.” Not only would it serve the interests of international commerce by standardizing policies; it would also empower American consumers to take control of their own data.

Read more on the Economist.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.