No Right To Be Forgotten

No Right To Be Forgotten (2021)

Anybody who is stupid enough to want to be remembered deserves to be forgotten right now.

Gore Vidal

What if you are not whom the internet says you are?

This week an A.I. app debuted to put any face on a porn video with a single click.

Sure, the face swaps look inaccurate and distorted but to a digital layperson, it looks real. Once a video of someone’s face is transposed on pornography and gets embedded on the internet it cannot be removed and could digitally live forever — at least in the United States.

Imagine HR throwing your name into a search engine before an interview and a video with millions of views comes up as a clickable link or meta tags of your name combined with any list of profanity or sexual acts. No one will pause to check with you if it’s real or not. You are immediately removed from the job search.

Seven years ago, in a June 2014 opinion piece in Forbes, columnist Joseph Steinberg noted that “many privacy protections that Americans believe that they enjoy — even some guaranteed by law — have, in fact, been eroded or even obliterated by technological advances.”

Even if you die, your personal data becomes public domain unless willed into a trust.

Currently, there is no legal standing within the United States for the right to be forgotten. Only Europe has strong laws that allow its citizens to petition Google and other online entities to strike online records of cleared past doings. However, 9 out of 10 Americans want the right to be forgotten.

Why doesn’t the United States have a “right to be forgotten” law?

It comes down to the fear of censorship. The argument is that it will contradict the right to freedom of speech. “Right to be forgotten” could breach peoples’ constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.

Not to worry, content related to you can be removed from the internet but the only person with the constitutional right to remove those things is, and here’s the rub, only if you personally uploaded them.

Family, friends, strangers, or anyone can put anything out there as freedom of expression — even fake porn — and use your likeness. Their constitutional right is protected.

Or is the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, part of the Bill of Rights, the way forward for the “right to be forgotten”?

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The purpose was to assert the principle that the enumerated rights are not exhaustive and final and that the listing of certain rights does not deny or disparage the existence of other rights.

Yet, the rights left to be protected by the amendment remain unclear as the Founding Fathers wanted to leave a framework, not a strict code.

But how to orchestrate a framework to determine what should be erased and what should remain?

The “right to be forgotten” can be used for good and evil.

What if you are rich, connected, or tech-savvy enough to redact articles and redirect over content that highlights previous crimes, accusations in order to repeat or find new victims?

As we live in a Cancel Culture where something tweeted on Twitter years ago could be used to fire you today, have we gone too far? Some say it brings about transparency and accountability. Someone who can be judged for what they did can be judged just as harshly as those that didn’t. The truth comes from how the person reinvents themselves and rises above it.

But what if you are judged simply because you were lonely?

During COVID-19 lockdowns, revenge porn rose 600% in Australia and United Kingdom. Because of the lack of physical intimacy, those quarantined at home turned to share images and videos of themselves with potential dating partners without proper vetting. Threatening to show these images to the world if they didn’t pay a ransom and even if they did pay, the images and videos are still released.

The difference in the United Kingdom is under Article 17 of the UK GDPR, an individual has the right to have personal data erased. The right only applies to data held at the time the request is received. This article does not apply to data that may be created in the future.

Although Australia doesn’t have a specific ‘right to be forgotten’ law, Australian citizens are protected against the misuse of information about them by Australian Privacy Principles under the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 and traditional remedies such as the tort of defamation.

In a physical and digital world saturated by social media, people have become or live a narrative based on what the internet algorithms say they are.

And everyone makes mistakes. So when someone makes one mistake, it can create a 500 error — internal server error — to a person’s life — and they can completely unravel. Suicides due to internet shaming and revenge porn are on the rise.

Doesn’t everyone deserve at least one page not found?

Privacy is not an option, and it shouldn’t be the price we accept for just getting on the Internet. — Gary Kovacs