Tuesday, May 13, 2014
A high-impact decision was issued by the European Court of Justice today when it held that Google must adhere to the requests of individuals to erase links to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27388289). The case was brought by a Spanish man who did not want an auction notice for a repossessed home he had owned to be retrieved in response to searches of his name. The emerging legal concept, the “right to be forgotten,” is largely European and grows from the region’s well-established and widely-recognized body of privacy rights.
George Washington University Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen, who is also the Legal Affairs Editor of The New Republic, calls the “right to be forgotten” the “biggest threat to free speech on the Internet in the coming decade” (http://goo.gl/pq4UHC). A more comprehensive treatment of this right was published by Steven Bennett and can be found here: http://goo.gl/0nY227. Professor Rosen’s response to the emergence of the right to be forgotten is hardly surprising in a society like ours whose passion for free speech is only matched by our love of guns and money. But at what price?
Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship praised the ruling as a step out of the “digital stone age.” That stone age is one in which our children are often among the most vulnerable. Over ten years ago, Michigan State University Law Professor Kevin Saunders published a book examining the effects of the First Amendment on our nation’s children, Saving Our Children from the First Amendment (http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=9489#.U3Jqumjn-1s). Since then, we have witnessed an exploding occurrence of cyberbullying, sextortion, sexting, and exchange of sex abuse images involving our children and youth. While there are clearly exceptions to First Amendment freedoms for some of the challenges our children and youth face in the Digital Age, the fact remains that many of our children will carry a burden that we have never experienced as their youthful impulses, indiscretions, and, in some cases, victimizations, will be forever published and available on the Internet for others to witness again and again, unless the United States begins to more widely recognize a right to privacy.
Who among us isn’t thankful that those cellulose acetate images of a certain Spring Break in the Bahamas or that post-college graduation train ride across Europe or the election night victory party are degrading in someone’s attic right now? After all, as Scientific American reminded us yesterday, even the brains of mice, Chilean rodents, and guinea pigs know that some things are better forgotten (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-brain-cells-erase-old-memories/?&WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20140512).