The right to be forgotten

By | 24th January 2012

Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all – Friedrich Nietzsche

Like the rumble of thunder which precedes the storm or the escape of sulphurous gas which heralds a volcanic eruption, it is clear that the EU is up to something.

That something promises to be momentous. Forget the recession/depression, forget the riots on the streets of Athens, forget (if you can) the reelection campaign of President Sarkozy (who has not yet even announced that he is going to stand for another term as President of our favourite neighbour)!

All this is unimportant. The EU is turning its attention to data privacy.

Now I am not for one moment suggesting that what happens to personal data is not rightly of concern, particularly to the person whose data it is. The EU has recognised its importance and on January 25th (Burns Night for those non Scots who need reminding that our northern neighbours will be getting smashed on Wednesday), the EU intends to publish proposals for new data protection rules.

I have not seen the draft proposals but believe that we may see included something along these lines:

  • A right to portability enabling individuals to transfer data between companies more easily.
  • A right to be forgotten! If you want to delete material from Facebook, the company will be forced to allow you to take the information down.
  • Severe financial penalties will be introduced for leaking data. By severe, I mean a significant percentage of company turnover.
  • One EU wide Data Regulation Authority which will not be based in Britain where we are regarded as having fairly lax data privacy rules which the EU doubtless thinks we should change.

The new rules are apparently essential to protect consumers and reduce bureaucracy according to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. Now that will be a first! An EU proposal that reduces bureaucracy? I can hardly contain my impatience.

While we will in all probability all have to get used to this brave new world, I advise against holding your breath. The proposals may well be published on Wednesday, but it will take years for the rules to be refined and amended and passed by national governments. My best guess is two to three years before they are finally enacted and by then, who knows: Greece and others may have left the euro, President Le Pen of France may have lost another “A” from her country’s credit rating and Libya and an independent Scotland may be applying to join the EU, if in fact it still exists.

As ever, however, I will keep you informed of developments and from time to time I may even share my views about them with you. In the meantime, I am off to the Land of the Free (where they have their own interesting and different data privacy rules) about which I will write more on my return.