The Right To Be Forgotten

Paula LaBrot

For a long time I have been feeling sorry for the younger generations. They are forever followed by their history…there is no escaping it.

In my day, we kids could be threatened by “our college record;” any bad behavior documented through high school could prevent us from getting into the institutions of our choice. Beyond high school though, we were home free. We could reinvent ourselves many times over, not followed by the spectre of “our past.” For today’s kids, every stupid thing, every mistake, can find its way onto the internet. Private texts and images, medical problems, legal problems, family divorce documents, and every accusation—true or false—can bubble up from one’s past and potentially ruin one’s present and future. The Telegraph quotes Google’s CEO, George Schmidt, “The private lives of young people are now so well documented on the internet that many will have to change their names on reaching adulthood.”

I think it is so unfair. People change. People grow. I am a big believer in redemption.

It’s kind of funny that Schmidt is showing concern over the issue of users’ cyber-history, because, as the Telegraph reports, “Google has been condemned by the privacy watchdogs of ten countries for showing a “disappointing disregard” for safeguarding private information of its users.” Google monetizes your personal information for massive profits, right along with Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Behind their paywalls (data for dollars), search engines like Google can provide a lot of useful information.

Pre-employment background checks, tenant background checks, volunteer background checks are routine these days. That drooling picture of you stone drunk with your high school buddies that seemed so funny when you were 15 can come back on you when potential employers request access to your Facebook account. Revenge porn makes you wish you hadn’t flashed your old sweetheart. How about that angry, radical rant you posted about killing cops or principals or blowing up the school, and your adorable observations about drag racing the canyon roads.  Just look at that babyface mugshot. You look so cute in handcuffs. Oh, the dumb things we do when we are young!

Minclaw, an internet defamation, reputation/brand protective law firm, suggests, “The extent of the permanency and damage internet postings may carry is far greater than most people appreciate. Your digital footprint carries the permanency of a tattoo, meaning, most likely forever, that it will potentially jeopardize your “brand,” career, and even future relationships.

It is highly recommended that when posting on the Internet, you consider not only the present consequences, but any future consequences it may have for you, your family, and innocent persons. However, even the most cautious of posters may still slip up and post something that may live permanently on in the World Wide Web, casting a dark shadow over you and your reputation for years to come.”


Europeans and Argentinians have addressed the digital footprint problem by passing the “Right To Be Forgotten” law. This codification of internet privacy rights gives individuals autonomy over their internet presence. It allows people to ask search engines like Google or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to remove results that include their name or image, so they cannot be found. This is meant to protect people from exploitation and to insure that those who have paid a “debt to society” have a chance at a fresh start.

Forbes Magazine reports “ the European Court of Justice ruling….determined Europeans had a “right to delist,” meaning that individuals, corporations, and even government officials could request that material be removed from Google’s search results if deemed “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive,” and not related to discourse regarding the public interest.” (Who does the deeming?)

Americans are more supportive of transparency, fearing that any kind of censorship would lead to violations of the first amendment for media, journalists, and other parties. The nearest thing we have to the European model is the California “eraser law,” which essentially may act to “seal” juvenile (under 18) internet activity.

Americans are afraid of the search engines and social media giants as censors. American law professor Eugene Volokh is quoted, “…the ‘right’ [Right To Be Forgotten] this aims to protect is the power to suppress speech, the power to force people—on pain of financial ruin when companies are fined two percent of global income if not compliant—to stop talking about other people, when some government body decides that they should stop.”

Further, the Freedom of Information Act gives citizens a constitutional right to information obtained legally. The Electronic Frontier Foundation worries the Right To Be Forgotten could run up against our Constitution.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave!”

You will be hearing more about the Right To Be Forgotten. On its fiftieth birthday, we are still on the frontiers of the future of privacy. Meanwhile, delete old and unused accounts and be careful what you post. Hey! Google yourself and see what comes up.

P.S. Do not forget your Valentine.

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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