Do U.S. Internet users want the so-called "right to be forgotten" that’s been a hot topic in Europe? And is such a scenario plausible stateside? It appears those questions have very different answers.
Europe’s highest court ruled last spring that individuals had the right to ask that certain online data deleted so that third parties could no longer trace them. Despite the ruling, several questions on the subject remain fuzzy, such as the fairness of holding search engines responsible for irrelevant information, rather than the Web site that published the information.
A survey of 500 Internet users by Austin-based Software Advice, a resource for software buyers, found that almost two-thirds of U.S. citizens would like to be able to request that outdated or irrelevant information about them be removed from search results.
Key findings from the survey include: 61 percent of Americans said some version of the right to be forgotten was necessary; 39 percent of Americans wanted a European-style right-to-be-forgotten blanket policy, without restrictions; and 47 percent respondents said that outdated and irrelevant search results can be damaging to a person’s reputation
Within those results, 39 percent of respondents wanted an EU-style blanket law that would apply to everybody; 21 percent wanted a qualified right; 15 percent said it should only be extended to minors; and 6 percent said all but public figures should be able to demand the right to be forgotten.
On the other hand, only 18 percent were opposed on the basis of the public’s right to know, while 21 percent worried about the issues surrounding the definition of what constitutes relevant information. About one-third were not certain that search results could harm anyone, and 21 percent said there was little on the Internet that truly posed a problem for anybody.
Can it Happen Here?
When we reached Daniel Humphries, IT security researcher at Software Advice, he told us the findings reflect the premium Americans put on privacy and resisting intrusions on that privacy.
"The right to be forgotten is definitely thinkable in the U.S.," said Humphries. "Although, whether many Americans would be satisfied with a sweeping, European-style ruling is another, very different question."
What could stand in the way of a the adoption of a similar law in the United States is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the strong emphasis on the public’s right to know. But those principles could be at odds with Americans’ equally strong desire for privacy and antipathy toward government and corporate intrusion.
The test case for whether such a law could work here might take place in California. That state’s so-called "Internet eraser law" would let teenagers wipe evidence of their youthful indiscretions from the Internet.
"It's often said that Europeans and Americans view a right, such as the right to be forgotten, very differently," said Humphries. "Americans place a higher value on the public's right to know, while Europeans value privacy, [suggesting that] this kind of thing would be somehow unthinkable stateside."