The right to privacy and how to be forgotten in the midst of our digital era - | Hudson McKenzie

The right to privacy and how to be forgotten in the midst of our digital era

Arguably, one of the most important questions discussed by lawmakers and academics is our right to privacy and how to be forgotten in the midst of our digital era. Interestingly, the European Court recently decided to implement the right of an individual to be forgotten, concluding that Google should erase all links, including legal rulings. Before, protection of an individual’s privacy entailed providing a definition of the boundaries of physical intrusion – but the internet has changed things. Nowadays, every action leaves behind unique digital footprints – credit card purchases, surfing the internet and uploading photographs to social media websites.

I.T. makes it possible to gather huge quantities of data as a result of search engine capabilities and Artificial Intelligence elements that predict future actions. There are many systems in existence – Facebook, WhatsApp, “cloud” technology – that share content. All circumvent the right to be forgotten as well as the right to privacy. We are all well aware of the value that lies in information for promoting social and business goals. Nonetheless, there are some who claim that the right to privacy is a cultural and artificial phenomenon that sanctifies the interests of the individual over those of society.

Today, the technology for information collection from internet surfers, mobile phone users, credit card, and consumer clubs allows for the collection of data which points to individual consumer habits as well as demographic, health and socio-economic characteristics. This highly increases the risk of the exposure of sensitive data and demonstrates the need to protect privacy.

Where we are dealing with the right of the convicted person who has paid their debt to society, questions are raised on the right of the individual to be forgotten, balanced with the public interest. The public’s right to know is a basic, democratic right. Freedom of information, resulting from the public’s right to know, is a complex concept. A central part of the ‘public right to know’ is the right to demand and receive information. The emphasis here is on the public interest so we must ask the question of whether preventing the publication of certain information is more important than enabling its public availability for the future?

By way of illustration, pertaining to the point above: an individual who has been declared bankrupt in the UK has this information erased after 10 years. But what of the banker who embezzled public funds? What of the child minder who abused their position of responsibility? After paying their debt to society, do they too have the right to be forgotten? If so, what justifies their right?

The internet enables penetration of the private arena with relative ease. This prompts a rethinking of how we protect information and rights to privacy. In the legal world, protection of privacy is a highly held social value. Rapid changes in technology require wider usage of technological protection as well as legal solutions to assist victims.

We are of the view that public availability of information over the internet is in society’s best interests and is very much deserving of protection even though it entails a higher demand on efforts and resources to protect users’ privacy.