The right to be forgotten

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The right to be forgotten

The author is the deputy financial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Kim Jung-hyeok’s novel “Your Shadow is Monday,” a translated title, features the fictional occupation of “deleters.” These are private investigators who delete all traces of their clients. Once they die, their hard drives, online documents, mobile phones, diaries and letters are deleted. Clients have various reasons to delete their records: they want to save their posthumous reputations, fearing the revelation of their secrets, or need to protect someone. But it all boils down to a single outcome: they want their memories to vanish.

The digital age does not allow oblivion. So much information has been housed in databases. Information is constantly circulating the internet and leaves traces wherever it goes. Search engines have made records immortal. The right to be forgotten, by demanding that personal information disappear, has become important. In many countries, the right is legally recognized.

The right to be forgotten has recently become an issue. The concept was introduced in Korea by Song Myeong-bin, head of Marker Group. Videos and recordings showing Song verbally and physically abusing and threatening an employee surfaced on Dec. 28. His abuse is just as bad as the horrendous assaults Yang Jin-ho — the owner of multiple file sharing websites connected to porn distribution — which led to the legislation of workplace harassment prevention laws.

Revisions to the Labor Standards Act and the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act were coincidentally passed by the National Assembly on Dec. 27. According to these so-called “Yang Jin-ho Prevention” laws, workplace harassment is defined in the Labor Standards Act. Workplace harassment and abusive language by customers have also been added to the occupational disease categories in the Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act.

An employee who was a victim of Song’s physical and verbal abuses and threats said in an interview, “I lost six years of my life. It won’t be easy from now on either.” Song’s abuse and violence destroyed a person’s life, leaving unforgettable nightmarish memories.

Song must have thought his abuse would been quickly forgotten — just like the book that made him famous in 2015, “Right to be Forgotten: Please Forget Me,” a translated title. Now that the news of his abuse has circulated the internet, he needs to keep in mind digital expert J.D. Lasica’s advice: “The Net never forgets.” He does not have the right to be forgotten.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 31
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