This is a write-up of my in-audience comments at Working Group 3 Transparency and Privacy: Next Steps panel of Freedom Online Coalition Conference, Costarica, October 18, 2016.
FOC came into being with optimism about the role of the Internet for democratization. There is one trend that is clearly anti-Internet, that is right to be forgotten. It restricts completely lawful content for being online. The content can remain on paper, remain on a server, remain in a device but it cannot remain online i.e., made available through a search algorithm. That the original content remains in tact offers no solace. Too much information is no information. There is so much information online that, without search engine giving you guidance, the probability of finding information useful for you is nil. The information might as well not exist. The ability to search is inextricably intertwined with the equalizing function of the Internet, i.e., giving powerless individuals the same power of information and the same power of publicity as big companies and government. It is only through search engines that the democratizing potential of the Internet can be harnessed. Guess what now? After the lawyer Costeja manipulated the search result in his favor, poor people will not be able to find out about his bankruptcy but rich people can hire many laborers to sift through the archives of the local newspapers and eventually find out about his previous bankruptcy. The equalizing power of the Internet is dead.
Note that RTBF is strong in Europe but not very welcomed in the continents formerly colonized by Europe. Why is that? Former colonies usually have not resolved injustices and oppression from the colonial periods and the unjust and oppressive structures remain in their societies. People need to see the whole truth to address and resolve these remnants of history, not just truths about public figures. Sometimes, you need all the truths to determine whether one is a public figure or not. Collaboration with colonizing forces has happened from the top to the bottom of the ranks of the society. People have right to know about their own wrongs so that they do not repeat it. RTBF makes us blind to our own previous wrongs, and interferes with the societal settlement and healing that the former colonies urgently need. FOC was formed to assist the countries in parting with their terrible colonial pasts, and it can achieve that goal by opposing RTBF.
Even from human rights perspectives, RTBF is wrong. UN Human Rights Committee has clearly spoken that truth shall be a complete defense to defamation. Which means, tinged with any public interest or not, true statements should not be restricted for reason of lowering another’s reputation. RTBF does exactly that: It restricts or slows down completely truthful statements for the reason that the subjects of the statements do not like it. One of FOC standards is human rights, and its goal is to support human-rights-protecting governmetns. FOC should take stance on human rights by taking stance on RTBF.