Right to be forgotten

erased people

The GDPR‘s right-to-be-forgotten has been in the news this week. This post will look at a couple news stories and how they relate.

Forgetting about a stabbing

On Monday the New York Times ran a story about an Italian news site that unfolded as a result of resisting requests to hide a story about a stabbing.

In 2008, Umberto Pecoraro stabbed his brother Vittorio in a restaurant with a fish knife. The victim, Vittorio, said that the news story violated his privacy and demanded that it be taken down, citing the right-to-be-forgotten clause in the GDPR. The journalist, Alessandro Biancardi, argued that the public’s right to know outweighed the right to be forgotten, but he lost the argument and lost his business.

The Streisand effect

This story is an example of the Streisand effect, making something more public by trying to keep it private. People around the world now know about the Pecoraro brothers’ fight only because one of them fought to suppress the story. I’d never know about local news from Pescara, Italy if the NYT hadn’t brought it to my attention [1].

Extending EU law beyond the EU

Will Vittorio Pecoraro now ask the NYT to take down their story? Will he ask me to take down this blog post? Probably not in light of a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday [2].

France‚Äôs privacy regulator had argued that the EU’s right-to-be-forgotten extends outside the EU, but the European Court of Justice ruled otherwise, sorta.

According to the LA Times story, the court ruled that Google did not have to censor search results to comply with the right to be forgotten, but it did need to “put measures in place to discourage internet users from going outside the EU to find the missing information.”

I’ve written about a right to be forgotten before and suggested that it is impractical if not logically impossible. It also seems difficult to have a world wide web subject to local laws. How can the EU both allow its citizens to access the open web and also hide things it doesn’t want them to see? That seems like an unstable equilibrium, with the two stable equilibria being an open web and a Chinese-style closed web.

More privacy posts

[1] I also wouldn’t write about it. Although I think it’s impractical to legally require news sites to take down articles, I also think it’s often the decent thing to do. Someone’s life can be seriously harmed by easily accessible records of things they did long ago and regret. I would not stir up the Pecoraro story on my own. But since the NYT has far greater circulation than my blog, the story is already public.

[2] There’s an interesting meta-news angle here. If it’s illegal for Alessandro Biancardi to keep his story about the Pecoraro brothers online, would it be legal for someone inside the EU to write a story about the censoring of the Pecoraro brothers story like the NYT did?

You could argue that the Pecoraro brother’s story should be taken down because it’s old news. But the battle over whether the story should be taken down is new news. Maybe Vittorio Pecoraro’s privacy outweighs the public’s right to know about the knife fight, but does his privacy outweigh the public’s right to know about news stories being taken down?


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