Tag Archive | "First Amendment"

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Re-Writing History: The right to be forgotten

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Credit to: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/shutterstock_RTBF_195176492.jpg

Scientific research suggests that the act of forgetting memories fosters a healthy state of mind. The act of forgetting may be more difficult to achieve in a world where internet companies collect and store a broad range of information about their users’ lives and daily activities. Is it fair for individuals to ask everyone else to forget information that they do not want remembered? On May 13th, 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union ordered Google to delete search results linking to a 1998 auction notice of a Spanish man’s repossessed home. Since the ruling went into effect, Google has received over 225,000 requests for the removal of links. This controversial ruling, labeled the “Right to be Forgotten,” puts into sharp focus the competing interests of global Internet companies and individual Internet users. The rule also raises a debate between the personal appeal in purging the Internet of undesirable information and the danger in creating a system that allows for censorship and the re-writing of history.

The ruling by the Court of Justice has three major holdings. First, the European Union’s 1995 Data Protection Directive applies to search engines because they are controllers of personal data. Second, even though Google Spain’s data-processing servers are located in the United States, the Court of Justice can apply European Union rules to Google Spain because it is located in a European Union Member State and it sells advertising space within that jurisdiction. Third and most importantly, under certain circumstances individuals have the right to request that search engines remove links containing “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” personal information about them.

The European Union is the most aggressive jurisdiction when it comes to protecting personal privacy rights. The “Right to be Forgotten” rule maintains Europe’s position as the champion of personal privacy. Other countries with more balanced privacy regulations are considering whether Internet forgetfulness could benefit their citizens. A Japanese man brought a case in a Tokyo Court because Google did not comply with a request to remove information relating to him from search results. The Hong Kong Court of Appeals will hear a petition from Google on the “Right to be Forgotten” in early 2015. Privacy organizations in Asia are strongly advocating for the “Right to be Forgotten” to apply in Asian countries. Critics warn that establishing such a rule could undermine corporate and political transparency in a region with a history of powerful people that manipulate information flows.

In the United States, the debate around the “Right to be Forgotten” rule has support on both sides of the argument. Critics say that the rule is vague, prone to abuse and amounts to censorship in violation of the First Amendment. On the other hand, eighty-eight percent (88%) of American citizens in a recent survey said that they would support a “Right to be Forgotten” rule. When opposing experts discussed the same argument in front of an American crowd as a part of an Intelligence Squared event, fifty-two percent (52%) of the crowd voted against a “Right to be Forgotten” law. As other countries ponder the merits of the rule, the European Union is pushing for it to apply worldwide and not just on websites for European countries. A worldwide imposition of European privacy standards could result in the rest of the world losing the “Right to Remember.”

The ability of information technologies to collect and store endless amounts of individuals’ personal information raises legitimate concerns regarding surveillance and personal privacy. The “Right to be Forgotten” carries a powerful emotional appeal for many people that wish to leave their past behind. Despite the fact that forgetfulness may have its benefits, our memories of the past have a great deal to do with what we can learn in the future. When individuals request that Google “forgets” information undesirable to them, they re-write the collective story we share as a society. The processes the brain uses to facilitate information recall demonstrate the appropriate way to handle past information. Forgetting is not as easy as flipping a switch, ask anyone who has tried to forget an embarrassing moment from their youth. Instead, forgetting has more to do with the brain’s ability to accumulate enormous amounts of fresh information that crowd out old memories. In a world where every moment is stored forever, the brain teaches us that forgetting may be easier with more information, not less.

Matthew Aeschbacher is a 4LE law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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Protesters against the U.N. Internet Treaty (Micro Center Blog)

Critical Analysis: The Threat of International Internet Regulation

Protesters against the U.N. Internet Treaty (Micro Center Blog)

Protesters against the U.N. Internet Treaty (Micro Center Blog)

At a United Nations conference last December, eighty-nine countries voted to create a revised telecommunications treaty that would implement a system of international government regulation over the internet.  The treaty will increase the authority of the International Telecommunication Union—a United Nations agency—in the regulation of the internet on a global scale.  Despite the tremendous response in favor of the treaty, the United States, along with fifty-five other countries, refused to sign.  The United States expressed concern over the threats to various freedoms that would result from such a law.

Opponents throughout the U.S. and abroad believe government regulation of the internet will have a decidedly negative effect on the global economy. The primary fear of government internet regulation is the implementation of widespread censorship which would not only affect individuals, but many online companies including internet giants such as Google and YouTube.  Internet censorship laws exist in several countries already and they provide a frightening example of the impending threats of the proposed U.N. regulations.  Russia, for example, passed an internet blacklist bill last summer requiring ISP’s to censor certain sites in an attempt to protect children from harmful content.  However, the bill also censors many Russian journalists and sites containing criticisms of the Russian government. This kind of censorship is a dangerous threat to free speech.  Further, the blacklist is already showing signs of a fragmented internet as legal challenges by rights advocates mount and companies as large as YouTube seek freedom from censorship.

Censorship is not the only threat to the global economy.  Many see a definite financial danger if government regulation of the internet were to succeed.  One fear is that governmental bureaucracy will come to control the engineering and business aspects of the internet.  Some regulatory proposals include dramatically altering website distribution, or even charging companies fees for visitor usage.  This could be as devastating to companies as outright censorship.  FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell believes this could even kill websites. He explained, “MIT and Harvard recently introduced free classes online…. That sort of thing starts to dry up if they have to start paying to put things online.”

While government regulation is a very real threat, there’s still time to stand against it. The United Nations treaty will not go into effect until 2015; that means the U.S. and other opposed nations can still make a case for internet freedom.  And, some progress is being made in this direction.  Lawmakers have drafted new legislation intended to define the US government’s official policy regarding the internet.  The proposal was submitted on February 5, 2013, at a hearing on global efforts for internet regulation and works to further clarify the United States’ position on internet regulation.  Above all, the drafted legislation promotes a “global internet free of governmental control.”

It is not hard to understand why now is the time for the U.S. to act on such legislation. The internet is a vital means of communication and commerce throughout the world.  Mandatory government involvement in the regulation of the internet will not only hurt the availability of information and access to content for people around the world, but it shakes the very foundations of our global economy. Thus, it is crucial that the United States and other countries stand behind a decentralized model of web governance meant to promote the continued innovation and growth of this important resource.  As FCC Commissioner McDowell warned, “dynamic new wonders of the early 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing old rules designed for a different time.”

Stacy Harper is a 2L at Denver University Law School and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law