The Right to Be Digitally 'Forgotten' Exists in Europe – Why Not the U.S.?

Some European citizens are effectively able to scrub themselves from online search engines, but the U.S. has not been so quick to legislate the same option.

by Tamara Chuang, The Denver Post / March 26, 2018
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) — Q: I am a dual-national, having both British and U.S. citizenship, although I currently reside in the U.S. I am wondering if my U.K. status would offer better legal rights, such as being able to request my personal information residing on corporation and social media sites be deleted under the so-called “right to be forgotten” act, notwithstanding the fact most communications are originating in the U.S. ~ Roland Halpern, Denver

Tech+ Good question, and one that was apparently anticipated.

The second question in the FAQ page by online reputation firm Reputation VIP answers it: Nope.

Let’s back up a bit. Your personal privacy and data are important, right? (The answer is absolutely!) But over the years, many of us have shared some of ourselves with big companies in order to get a free this, an easier that and what not.

And companies have been taking every digital bit we share and matching it up to other bits to create user profiles that are sold to or shared with advertisers, political campaigns and others. Facebook is still reeling from revelations that political firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million users and sold it to third parties, including former Colorado Senate Republican leader Bill Cadman. CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized Friday and told the New York Times that Facebook plans to “tell anyone whose data may have been shared.”

Europe decided to put a stop to some personal data misuse by passing the EU General Data Protection Regulation in 2016. The law is supposed to force companies that do business with European residents to disclose data breaches within 72 hours of discovery, show how personal data is used and allow for deletion. Enforcement begins May 25 with fines for violators in the $25 million or more range.

And the European “right to be forgotten” part of the law allows Europeans to petition Google or other companies to erase their personal pasts with conditions.

But getting back to Roland’s point, this protects people living in Europe — including Americans. It doesn’t, however, protect Europeans living in America.

Similar efforts have been underway in the United States, such as New York State Assembly bill A05323, but politicians are still figuring it out because such laws could be abused to censor the past and, for example, erase a prominent figure’s past misdeeds.

Some useful links:

Other tips and advice for those trying to limit what personal data they have out there:

  • For any site you share personal data with, check the privacy settings. Facebook’s has an FAQ on this plus personal settings are at facebook.com/settings?tab=privacy; Google’s is at privacy.google.com/take-control.html
  • Create disposable emails or and phone numbers for accounts that really don’t need to know your personal information
  • Delete old and unused accounts
  • Use search engines that don’t track you, like DuckDuckGo.com
  • Browse incognito using internet browsers like Tor, at torproject.org
  • Text messaging tools like Signal.org and WhatsApp.com keep texts and calls secure and encrypted from end to end

Lots of tips and tools are available from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, at eff.org.

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