‘Right to be forgotten not absolute’

‘Right to be forgotten not absolute’

Do you have the right to be forgotten? Not everyone, says an expert panel on data protection law.

Juxtaposing the right to information with the right to erase information about oneself, Justice B N Srikrishna Committee has said that public interest should override personal concerns when demands for deleting personal information from the internet arise.

The right to be forgotten has been a topic of debate with a section arguing that it is necessary citing instances such as revenge porn sites popping up when one searches for a person or details of petty crimes individuals committed many years ago tumbling out.

In a recent case, the Karnataka High Court had upheld the right to be forgotten in a petition filed by a woman saying an internet search should not reflect her name in a previous criminal order passed by it.

At the panel’s public consultations, one section argued against the inclusion of right to be forgotten as it would be detrimental to one’s ability to access information on the net.

Others argued that right to erase “public” information about an individual should not be there.

Calling the European Union model of making data fiduciary to consider request for right to be forgotten as “privatisation of regulation”, the panel has suggested that proposed Data Protection Authority (DPA) should deal with such complaints.

Such pleas should be allowed only after examining whether the rights and interests in restricting the continued disclosure of personal data “override” the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to information of any citizen.

“The purpose for a publication may often involve matters of public interest and whether the publication is necessary may depend on the extent of such public interest. The appropriateness of a right to be forgotten in these circumstances would require that the right to privacy be balanced with the freedom of speech,” it said.

“The internet, with its currently vast reserves of data storage appears to facilitate timeless memory. As a result, the ability to forget is seriously denuded. This might not be entirely undesirable — collective attempts at forgetting have often involved attempts at rewriting history,” the report said.

The committee felt that removing publicly available information takes away from an individual’s right to know and at the same time, it abridges the freedom of the press which has published the story in the first place. “In order to address these free speech concerns, there may be a need to make a distinction between restrictions on disclosure (such as de-linking in search results) and permanent erasure from storage, which may not be permitted as a separate individual participation right,” it said.

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