A new necessity in the SNS age

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A new necessity in the SNS age

The “right to be forgotten” is the right to request the removal of personal information created, stored and distributed over the Internet. While it has been discussed in Korea for over a year, supporters and opponents continue to be at loggerheads.

Some say its introduction would infringe on other rights such as freedom of speech or copyright, destroying the balance of rights and putting a damper on the Internet economy.

But the right to be forgotten is actually a tool that can be used to maintain balance by allowing people to secure control of their personal information. That ability has been seriously eroded with the proliferation of social networking services. The right to be forgotten may be the last resort in reinstating control over information that has been increasingly infringed upon by the wealth, power and excessive freedoms taken by Internet companies that grew by collecting masses of personal information through new technologies.

We need to understand that the basic rules that maintain balance in life - like the right to the pursuit of happiness, the right to start anew and a ban on double jeopardy - are being destroyed. You can get fired from a job because of an old post or be treated like a criminal after you’ve already served your sentence.

Some argue that the legislation is unnecessary because the law on personal information protection already has clauses that deal with the correction or removal of that type of data. However, continued personal information leaks prove that the existing laws are not sufficient. We need to investigate why these laws haven’t been effective, looking into things like the range of application, liability and punishments, and seek alternatives.

As there are concerns about historic records being removed or damaged, the right to be forgotten needs to be implemented and practiced with caution. A media company has its own rules that corrections and removals are allowed only on online articles, not in print versions. If the law reflects such wisdom, the right to be forgotten can even correct historical records that are wrong.

We need to acknowledge the right to be forgotten as a new entitlement in the age of SNS and work together to define the specific scope, limitations, application and procedures. Just like in France, we can consider stating the right to be forgotten in the law and leave the specific application and implementation to be defined through consultation with related entities. Fortunately, portal sites are making autonomous control efforts by adopting guidelines that secure the right.

In order to properly establish this right, we need to keep the following in mind. First of all, it does not take precedence over other constitutional rights and is not the master key to all problems. In Europe, it is clearly stated that the right to be forgotten cannot be prioritized over the public interest and exceptions are made when it collides with freedom of speech, health and welfare issues or research needs. Secondly, we need to prevent the abuse or excessive use of the right. Thirdly, any legislation would not necessarily be complete. If we try to make a perfect law the first time, we may fall into the rhetoric that the right to be forgotten is impossible to realize.

Along with legislation and revision of the law, Internet users need to voluntarily have a sense of responsibility, be more prudent when posting and respect the privacy of others. Also, the technology to enable selective removal should be developed. When all these efforts are balanced, the right to be forgotten can take root in our society.

Lim Jong-in

The author is the dean of Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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