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date: 10 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

The right to be forgotten is an emerging legal concept allowing individuals control over their online identities by demanding that Internet search engines remove certain results. The right has been supported by the European Court of Justice, some judges in Argentina, and data-protection regulators in several European countries, among others. The right is primarily grounded in notions of privacy and data protection but also relates to intellectual property, reputation, and right of publicity. Scholars and courts cite, as an intellectual if not legal root for the right to be forgotten, the legal principle that convicted criminals whose sentences are completed should not continually be publicly linked with their crimes.

Critics contend that the right to be forgotten stands in conflict with freedom of expression and can lead to revisionist history. Scholars and others in the southern cone of South America, in particular, have decried the right to be forgotten because it could allow perpetrators of mass human rights abuses to cover up or obscure their atrocities. On the other hand, those in favor of the right to be forgotten say that digital technology preserves memory unnaturally and can impede forgiveness and individual progress. The right to be forgotten debate is far from resolved and poses difficult questions about access to, and control of, large amounts of digital information across national borders. Given the global nature of the Internet and the ubiquity of certain powerful search engines, the questions at issue are universal, but solutions thus far have been piecemeal.

Although a 2014 decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) garnered much attention, the right to be forgotten has been largely shaped by a 1995 European Union Directive on Data Protection. In 2016, the EU adopted a new General Data Protection Regulation that will take effect in 2018 and could have a major impact because it contains an explicit right to be forgotten (also called right to erasure). The new regulation does not focus on the theoretical or philosophical justification for a right to be forgotten, and it appears likely the debate over the right in the EU and beyond will not be resolved even when the new rule takes effect.

Keywords: Google, Internet search engine, data protection, privacy, freedom of expression, memory

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