An interesting debate was recently hosted by Intelligence Squared on the right to be forgotten. The issue to be debated was that “The US should adopt the ‘right to be forgotten’ online”. The audience overwhelmingly voted in the negative.
It’s an issue we’ve previously covered on FreedomWatch. In an article I wrote for The Age in July last year I labelled the right to be forgotten “an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech”:
Last month an EU court invented the ”right to be forgotten”. Individuals in the 28 European Union member states can now force Google and other search engines to remove online material about them that is “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”.
The EU case was brought by a Spanish man who sued Google to force the search engine to remove internet search results that included 16-year-old notices in a local newspaper about property that had been repossessed to pay debts he owed at the time.
Mario Costeja Gonzalez argued that the material should be removed because it breached his right to privacy – the notices were no longer current or relevant, so they should be deleted. His victory creates a dangerous precedent that gives every European the right to delete things on the internet they don’t like.
Australia risks going down a similar path if the policy that started in Europe ends up being applied worldwide. Google appears to have floated the idea of applying the right to deletion outside of Europe but has thankfully come down on the side of the more conservative application.
It’s good to know that when presented with the two sides of the debate, US audiences clearly reject the idea. I would be surprised if the results in Australia would be any different.
UPDATE: The Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez has a terrific piece on this. Sanchez has identified the Hayekian fatal conceit of the right to be forgotten. It is well worth a read.