Right to be forgotten online

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Right to be forgotten online

Courts around the world are being challenged to weigh in on citizens’ right to be forgotten or remembered in an online world marked by easy accessibility and distribution of information. The right to privacy prevailed for Europeans after their highest court ruled last week in favor of a Spanish plaintiff who brought a suit against search engine giant Google to remove individual objectionable links and data from the Internet. Korea’s Supreme Court went into debate last week on the right of access to this information and the handling of online accounts and digital assets after death.

The balance between an individual’s right to be forgotten and the public’s right to know is a hot topic around the world. Those who have been fighting for privacy rights hail the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling, while advocates of free speech are concerned about the breach in the web’s spirit of universality and accessibility of information. There are no clear-cut answers, but more and more agree that individuals should have the right to hide outdated, disgraceful and unwanted past information as long as it does not harm public interest. People are increasingly pained by random, reckless and careless online posts being publicized regardless of their wishes. Victims fall prey to shameless exposure without their endorsement. People must bear the fear of being bared before the anonymous masses. Mining the unwarranted spread of individual data can sometimes lead to lasting, and even deadly, consequences. Anyone can become a victim of witch-hunting depending on his or her luck. A distant past photo or post can haunt an individual and ruin his or her entire life path.

It is impossible to erase one’s individual past entirely from cyberspace. No one can afford the time or money. We need clear guidelines on how much and what can be removed from the online sphere. The right to privacy should not conflict with constitutional protection of free speech. Newspaper clips, criminal, judiciary and medical files, and historical data must comply with protection laws.

The right to be remembered also encompasses protection of digital assets such as emails, blogs and game money by allowing family to inherit an individual’s digital life in the event of death. A U.S. court in 2004 was the first to order Yahoo to hand over email passwords to the father of a Marine who was killed in Iraq despite its privacy policy. Families of sailors who died in the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010 are still denied access to the online accounts and assets of the deceased. It is time to begin the discussion and set a legal guideline.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 3, Page 30
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