Should You Have a Legal "Right to be Forgotten" on the Net?

A few months ago, I noted that Google's Chairman of the Board and CEO Eric Schmidt gave a long interview in the Wall Street Journal about his view of the future of IT and Google's role in it.

As part of his interview, CEO Schmidt said:

"I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time."

 As a result, the WSJ says, "He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites."

CEO Schmidt's comments caused a bit of a stir at the time, but apparently the European Commission has proposed something similar albeit not so radical as part of its proposed update to the EU's privacy laws: a legal "right to be forgotten" the London Telegraph reported last week.

The Telegraph quotes Viviane Reding, Europe's rights commissioner, as saying:

"Internet users must have effective control of what they put online and be able to correct, withdraw or delete it at will. ... What happens if you want to permanently delete your profile on a social networking site? Can this be done easily? The right to be forgotten is essential in today's digital world."

Potential criminal sanctions are being considered as part of the legislation.

Some, like columnist L. Gordon Crovitz at the Wall Street Journal, have questioned how this can be accomplished in practice and whether the right to be forgotten quickly morphs into one about government-sanctioned private censorship.

For instance, what happens to others who later write something about the information you posted? For example, say you posted a picture of yourself capturing "some youthful hijinks" you later regretted, but say your friends who saw your picture at the time decided to write about your antics to some of their other friends. Can you demand that your friends (and maybe their friends) delete their maybe not so flattering comments about you?

What do you think? Should you have a legal right to be forgotten on the Internet?

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