Don’t erase history

Not everyone should have the right to be forgotten.

Earlier this month, the European High Court of Justice ruled that people have the “right to be forgotten”, meaning that under European privacy law, individuals can now request that search engines remove links to information they think is no longer relevant.

Search engines are a critical source of information, and removing links in this manner is equivalent to altering and suppressing history.

What’s particularly vague about the ruling is how individuals are able and expected to judge what is considered relevant. There’s a conflict between personal and communal relevance; information that an individual considers irrelevant may still be significant to the broader community.

There are numerous cases where people have fallen victim to the Internet’s far reach. In cases of slanderous accusations or the unauthorized posting of personal information, it’s well within a person’s right to have the material in question taken down.

Conversely, the actions of Nazi war criminals and child molesters should not be forgotten or hidden.

But few cases are so clear-cut. This ambiguity in deciding what is relevant makes the High Court’s ruling a dangerous, slippery slope. It’s unclear where the line should be drawn.

Though there are currently just a few requests to remove information, it won’t be long before Google and other search engines receive thousands. This will be a logistical nightmare: addressing each request on a case-by-case basis won’t be viable, and an automated system would be ineffective in ensuring the correct decisions are made.

People make mistakes and grow from them; in some cases, they do deserve second chances. While society needs to be more forgiving of blunders of past decades, erasing history each time isn’t the solution.

Journal Editorial Board

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