PROPOSAL FOR A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE “RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN”

A Danish lawyer goes to Paris to sue Google about a defamation issue. This sounds like a lot of juridical tourism to come. Not being satisfied with the verdict in one country, plaintiffs go to another country to try their luck again. As long as they have enough resources which means, „the right to be forgotten“ is a costly issue, suitable only to accordingly financed people.

But the issue goes deeper, is more worrisome. The “right to be forgotten” stands diametrical contrary to the achievements of the enlightenment. It pulls issues back into the dark of forgetting and becoming forgotten. Generations of historians had had a hard job to bring issues from the dark of being forgotten into the light of being known and becoming investigated.
There is a dangerous trait to manipulate history. Pharaohs withdrew the names of their predecessors from statues and shrines to make them forgotten. Recall the Auschwitz crimes and the enormous attempts in post-war Germany to make them forgotten. Which challenged the other side, to make them scrutinized in the light of science, it became the most investigated issue in history.
The right to be forgotten could evolve to a right to suppress unpleasant information. Political and other participants of all sort can sue to suppress knowledge, facts on the ground of defamation or false description.
People who were wronged by others will feel no real relief by this questionable right, because the issues can come back any time in a different robe. There is no guarantee for forgetting. When the issues revive, maybe one or two generations later, they cannot defend themselves anymore. Who takes then care of their reputation?
What could be an alternative?

1. Clarifying instead of suppressing
Because there will not be such a thing as a united view on a diverse discussed issue, it is more helpful to document all sides and angles to make them accessible. Completing perpetually the informations Instead of suppressing special views, on the ground of a diversity of incompatible juridical systems.

2. The right to be clarified  
Everyone should have the right to tell and publish his own story in case of discordance with a description of an issue. Often a story evolves over years, which should be documented and added to the issue, instead of being suppressed. Slanderer are quickly unmasked and become object of scrutiny themselves. In case of defamation those, whose name is clarified, can sleep better as always fearing a second attack on their reputation.

3. The impossibility of regional, national regulation 
The demand to delete an information globally, based on a local juridical decision is not feasible. Every other national or even regional judiciary can ignore the verdict and demand a re-installation of the information. The unfolding chaos of contradictory verdicts is conceivable.

4. Regulation by the global civil community
The decision to regulate an information on the global level should be settled by a global institution. An institution installed by the global civil community, not by the states or supra state organizations like the UN, which depend on the benevolence of national governments. The global civil society is maturing only by experiencing her own responsibility. The Internet is the best learning field imaginable.

TECH VS. STATE – IT’S GETTING NAUGHTY (ACT 2) 

As predictable the different positions harden, the matadors dig their feet into the ground. The Obama administration sides very clearly with the FBI, questioning the demands of the civil society. Apple, as leader of the tech pack, defends its rights with both tooth and nail against the claims of the administration.

But the standoff is less entertaining as it sounds. It reflects the ongoing tries to balance the rights of the civil society for privacy with the needs of the state to fulfil its purpose. About 50 years ago, the question would have been decided very easily in favour of the governmental claims. The stance of the tech companies reflects an evolution in the understanding of privacy. In this meanwhile fierce fight, the pendulum currently leans more to the civil society, backed by the customers of the techies which as citizens are not comfortable with the current situation. The latest exchange of naughty arguments was about the FBI”s assertions, Apple would measure differently while giving China access to iPhone data. This assertion was countered by the iPhone producer, it had agreed to store date from its Chinese customers on Chinese soil, but “never made user data, whether stored on the iPhone or in iCloud, more technologically accessible to any country’s government”.

All this sounds like a grudge match and misses the point: What is the best solution possible to meet both justified demands? A new dynamic equilibrium has to be figured out. This is not the task of some lonely decisions by courts and will take discourses, studies and last not least, new technologies which can fulfil both claims: the government’s requirements to do its job and the civil society’s demands for privacy.

PLEASE MR. O, SING ME A DIFFERENT SONG!

The sitting president of the United States makes his case against the Apple Initiative in respect of privacy. As statist-in-chief he choses one of the most thrilling tech audiences at SXSW to deploy his message to the stunned civil society: for the sake of your individual security and national security, the government has to intrude your privacy, which we don’t like, but we have to, so sorry.

From distant Europe, effectively not so distant with the Internet, I wonder. Is Mr. O addressing the same nation which conquered the most dangerous aggression against humanity ever? Which was late in the race to space but reached the moon first, inspired by a different president who accepted the challenge and ignited an until then unknown endeavour? The same nation who still gives the GPS for free to the world, saving millions of tons of carbon dioxide daily? Which unleashed with the Internet the most efficient societal, economical disruption since the invention of the printing press? With a unique technological, entrepreneurial ecosystem, spreading outstanding ideas over the world, igniting hundreds of thousands of young entrepreneurs to make a difference, to change the world, conquering poverty with sharing economy, crowdsourcing, facilitating everyday life with artificial intelligence? This advanced, unique civil society should not be able to solve 21st century challenges with a developed 21st century mindset and 21st century technology?

Come on Mr. O, please sing me a different song!

TECH VS. STATE – A VICTORY FOR THE CIVIL SOCIETY (ACT 1)

The blue chips of American Technology Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft are united to ward their customers from the authorities’ grip on privacy.

The goverment as well as some lawmakers argue, there is no alternative to the intrusion in citizen’s privacy with the purpose to prevent crimes and possible new terrorist events. That’s a point and despite all rhetorics against Apple, we should trust in the sincerity of the argument. On the other side, citizens fear, this argument is not half of the truth. The other half: the state systemically wants to have a foot in the privacy sphere of every citizen.
A mutual suspicion, mistrust. The comprehensible tensions of this confrontation are positive, demand all participants to work on viable solutions. The fight is not about winning or losing, it is to face the authorities with the civil society’s justified interests. In other words: there must be solutions for national security which do not intrude privacy.

A challenge with all involved technological, political, juridical aspects. Which finally will lead to security on the one side, privacy on the other side. No one should say from the beginning: ‘impossible’.

We should trust in a collaborative society which invents an automated car, declares the computer as a driver, to be able to develop appropriate solutions for this sensible issue too.
The refusal of the tech giants on behalf of their customers is the first step to ignite a “moonshot” in this respect. All in all, a victory for the civil society. This move could have influence far beyond the US territory, a role model for other democracies facing the same issue.