The Forgotten Cyborg

I read with interest about the May 14 decision by the European Court of Justice to apply a Spanish “right to be forgotten” law to Google.  A number of European countries have such laws.

The test case privacy ruling by the European Union‘s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.  EU court backs ‘right to be forgotten’: Google must amend results on request  The Guardian 5-13-14

The ruling creates a process for individuals to request search engines to delete posts.  The SE would then consider the request weighing the individual’s concerns with the public’s right to know.  An individual unhappy with the SE’s decision could appeal to the ECJ.

In the last installment of my review of Code/Space, I discussed Kitchin and Dodge’s ethics of forgetting as a way to address the Everyware nature of code.  Their concern includes the internet, but also all coded objects, processes and structures.  As I quoted them in my review they state:

One path…is to construct an ethics of forgetting in relation to pervasive computing….[T]echnologies that “store and manage a lifetime’s worth of everything” should always be complimented by forgetting…So rather than focus on the prescriptive [ethics], we envision necessary processes of forgetting…that should be built into code, ensuring a sufficient degree of imperfection, loss and error. 253 Code/Space (Kitchen and Dodge)

The ECJ decision highlights the issue they present and the prescriptive approach they identify as inadequate to the task.  Various sources have identified all the challenges and dangers this ruling presents.

It’s possible, of course, that although the European regulation defines the right to be forgotten very broadly, it will be applied more narrowly. Europeans have a long tradition of declaring abstract privacy rights in theory that they fail to enforce in practice. And the regulation may be further refined over the next year or so, as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers hammer out the details. But in announcing the regulation, Reding said she wanted it to be ambiguous so that it could accommodate new technologies in the future. “This regulation needs to stand for 30 years—it needs to be very clear but imprecise enough that changes in the markets or public opinion can be maneuvered in the regulation,” she declared ominously.[16] Once the regulation is promulgated, moreover, it will instantly become law throughout the European Union, and if the E.U. withdraws from the safe harbor agreement that is currently in place, the European framework could be imposed on U.S. companies doing business in Europe as well.[17] It’s hard to imagine that the Internet that results will be as free and open as it is now.  The Right to Be Forgotten  Jeffrey Rosen (Stanford Law Review)

K&D’s approach is hard to imagine in operation.  Dueling discourses such as security/privacy, creativity/control, efficiency/accommodation illustrate the implications of all this.  The problem with remembering has always been letting go.  The problem with forgetting is never knowing what is forgotten.  We think that there must be a way to manage this kind of thing, all we need is a system. I will follow the progress of this rulings effects with interest.

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2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Cyborg

  1. Raises all sorts of interesting questions, each one worthy of a forgettable book or three.

    On another note, was just the other day re-reading an old comment thread at my blog in which I recommended Memento to you – glad to see you somewhere along the line dove in.

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