The problem with the recent wave of RTBF is that it is based on the concept of data ownership, not any widely accepted notions of privacy. According to that concept, one owns data about himself or herself regardless whether that data is public or private. RTBF ends up protecting public facts. That I did not pay someone wages 3 years, – no one would consider that private – but according to RTBF, I own that data, so I can ask Google to suppress people’s access to that data. That I did not pay taxes a few years ago which led to enforcement on my house 10 years ago, I own that data, I can suppress people from searching for it. But, do you really own data about you? John the husband beat up Jane the wife is also data. John regrets and is embarrassed about it and wants to keep it low. Jane is still mad about it and wants to make it a lesson for John and the likes, so wants to publicize it. Who owns that data and thus control whether the fact of wifebeating is shared with others through Google search and what not? There is no really answer. So, as you can see, the concept of data ownership, usually underlying any good RTBF conversation, is a mistake.
So, one attempted justification is relevance. The story is: Ok, we don’t own data about ourselves but we can suppress people’s sharing of data about us that are “no longer relevant”. The slogan reads “people don’t have to know about everything about others.” However, relevant to whom? Relevant from whose perspective? John, 10 years after the beating of Jane, may find it irrelevant because John is now completely a remade person, living a model citizen’s life. But, Jane may find the happenings of 10 years ago very relevant for her life and the lives of many others. Activists may find it relevant that there is a wife beater who has turned out good, to give people hope that harmful habits can be broken! RTBF justifies cloaking of this very relevant information by measuring relevance from only one perspective, the data subject’s perspective!
Some people say the milestone of relevance is ‘public interest’. In other words, the postings that are imbued with public interest will not be suppressed from search b/c public has interest in it and therefore still relevant. Let’s think about public interest. It is what the public wants and takes interest. But People are diverse. Some people are interested in Pokemon go, while others are interested in killing sprees unleashed by ISIS. Whose interests represents the public interest? In the end, it becomes either a majoritarian or averagetarian concept which is decided by a collective not by an individual. It goes against the pluralistic ideal of freedom of speech, which says individuals should be allowed to speak their minds as long as they do not harm others even if what they say may seem offensive to some, and may seem totally out of the whack for others, and may sound radical to others. As long as they do not pose a clear and present danger of actual injury, as hate speech would do, individuals should be allowed to speak their minds, access info they want, and share what they know despite what the majority of the people consider sound, desirable or publicly interested.
Much impetus from RTBF comes from a desire not to discriminate people for their past mistakes. The idea is to prevent discrimination by shutting down the information about people. So, if you don’t know that I am a tax evader, you cannot discriminate me for tax evasion. If you cannot search for the postings about my bad services to my clients, you cannot discriminate against me for being a bad lawyer. So, if you don’t know that I was a child sex offender, you cannot discriminate against me in applying for kindergarten jobs. Is this really a proportionate way of fighting discrimination? Is this a true way of fighting discrimination? Yes, one convenient way of prohibiting discrimination against LGBT will be banning people from talking about, sharing information, or suppressing Google searches about whether someone is LGBt or not. But wouldn’t the world be better if people know people’s diverse sexual orientations and embrace them?
Yes, I agree that expunging credit records or criminal records is important. People should be afforded rehabilitation rights, and the state has legitimate interest in promoting rehabilitation by expunging records about people. However, editing the official records is different from prohibiting people from sharing what they know. It is one thing to expunge the official credit records of Costeja by law to give him rehabilitation rights. It is another to ban people from talking about the fact that this lawyer Costeja auctioned off his house or making it available for Google search?
Also, what is the source of real evil discrimination? Not discrimination for their past conduct that people may or may not be able to Google search but discrimination for obvious traits such as race, gender, religion, etc. RTBF does not help in that regard.
If you suppress Google searches about people’s weaknesses, we will live and continue to live under a misperception that people are good, people have less weaknesses. What is dangerous, if anyone exposes his or her weakness by mistake or whatever, people will jump on them like hyenas, safe from similar exposures by the protections of RTBF. This is bigotry. RTBF fuels bigotry.
What do I think we need, in order to fight discrimination? Anonymity. To fight discrimination, many people go online as they should. By remaining anonymous, you can keep yourself safe from government censorship or trolls’ attacks. The problem with this world is that the right to privacy on your identity is not strongly protected as privacy on your thoughts. All these countries allow warrantless access to the identities of people who make otherwise anonymous postings. Our organization Open Net Korea is at the forefront of fighting for anonymity, we went to UN Human Rights Committee last October and got a Concluding Observation on our own country recommending to change the law so that unmasking of an otherwise anonymous netizen should be done only through warrant. Our colleagues at EFF successfully passed Cal-ECPA which also requires a warrant for accessing the identity of the parties. Chile and several countries require warrants for warrantless user identification.
Anonymity should be protected because it is privately held part of you. RTBF is not about privacy, it is about privatization of reputation. It is about data ownership and impossible desire to keep our reputation in tact even though reputation is socially formed. In Asia, we have fought against laws criminalizing insult, defamation, and all these other feudal remnants designed to do exactly that. Why? Because justice and democracy can only come from a society where people are allowed to call on one another when they make mistakes. Actually, these are laws that found their way into our law books during colonial periods. Korean law of insult under which about 10,000 people are prosecuted every year were planted by Japan during colonial rule, which in turn inherited that from German law of insult, which came into being in 18th century to resolve the social problem of dueling between nobilities. Colonial rule ruined our history once. Do not let this new European legal nicety of RTBF to ruin your fight for freedom of expression, democracy, and equality in Asia again.