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The “right to be forgotten” Essay

The “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches ought to be a civil right. Civil rights are purposed to protect freedom and equality among citizens. They are to protect individuality against society, which, by promoting self-development and self-identity—albeit ironic—ultimately leads to a collective progress. However, a society void of personality is also void of freedom—i.e. a state of being able to make decisions without external control. Individual dignity and integrity are driving forces of self-determination and form the basis of trust and societal intelligence—i.e. ability to evaluate itself and to improve.

Personal autonomy and independence constitute the premise of civil rights because civil rights promote individuals. When a society lacks personality and freedom there are no civil rights, no individuals, no humanity; there is only society, a cold mechanism of functions and persistence. This is because lack of personality indicates lack of personal identity, which is a premise of the need for civil rights. Inviolate personality is essential to a society where true civil rights can exist.

By adopting the “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches as a civil right, the government is rightfully protecting the citizens’ dignity, integrity, autonomy, and independence as an individual.

Free and equal citizenship comprises equal voice and equal vote of a citizen, and “moral independence,” i.e. ability to decide for oneself what gives meaning and value to one’s life and to take responsibility for living in conformity with one’s values. These two components stem from the “two moral powers” of personhood: the capacity for a sense of justice and the capacity for the conception of a good. To be a free and equal citizen is, in part, to have those legal guarantees that are essential to fully adequate participation in public discussion and decision-making. A citizen has a right to an equal voice and an equal vote. In addition, she has the rights needed to protect her “moral independence,” that is, her ability to decide for herself what gives meaning and value to her life and to take responsibility for living in conformity with her values (Dworkin, 1995: 25).

Accordingly, equal citizenship has two main dimensions: “public autonomy,” i.e., the individual’s freedom to participate in the formation of public opinion and society’s collective decisions; and “private autonomy,” i.e., the individual’s freedom to decide what way of life is most worth pursuing (Habermas: 1996). The importance of these two dimensions of citizenship stem from what Rawls calls the “two moral powers” of personhood: the capacity for a sense of justice and the capacity for a conception of the good (1995: 164; 2001: 18). A person stands as an equal citizen when society and its political system give equal and due weight to the interest each citizen has in the development and exercise of those capacities.

Permanent records and inability to properly reflect relevant identity of an individual hinder the individual’s public autonomy, moral independence, and function as a member of the society. This restricts an individual’s inviolate personality. Right to privacy includes control of personal information whereby an individual keeps autonomy in the Internet database that impacts the individual’s public and private autonomy. The premise and object of privacy is inviolate personality. Therefore, without privacy there cannot be free and equal citizenship. Narrow views of privacy focusing on control over information about oneself that were defended by Warren and Brandeis and by William Prosser are also endorsed by more recent commentators including Fried (1970) and Parent (1983). In addition, Alan Westin describes privacy as the ability to determine for ourselves when, how, and to what extent information about us is communicated to others (Westin, 1967). Perhaps the best example of a contemporary defense of this view is put forth by William Parent. Parent explains that he proposes to defend a view of privacy that is consistent with ordinary language and does not overlap or confuse the basic meanings of other fundamental terms.

He defines privacy as the condition of not having undocumented personal information known or possessed by others. Parent stresses that he is defining the condition of privacy, as a moral value for people who prize individuality and freedom, and not a moral or legal right to privacy. Personal information is characterized by Parent as factual (otherwise it would be covered by libel, slander or defamation), and these are facts that most persons choose not to reveal about themselves, such as facts about health, salary, weight, sexual orientation, etc. Personal information is documented, on Parent’s view, only when it belongs to the public record, that is, in newspapers, court records, or other public documents. Thus, once information becomes part of a public record, there is no privacy invasion in future releases of the information, even years later or to a wide audience,nor does snooping or surveillance intrude on privacy if no undocumented information is gained. In cases where no new information is acquired, Parent views the intrusion as irrelevant to privacy, and better understood as an abridgment of anonymity, trespass, or harassment.

Furthermore, what has been described above as the constitutional right to privacy, is viewed by Parent as better understood as an interest in liberty, not privacy. In sum, there is a loss of privacy on Parent’s view, only when others acquire undocumented personal information about an individual. DeCew (1997) gives a detailed critique of Parent’s position. –Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Public records are documents or pieces of information that are not considered confidential. Documented personal information is a part of the public records. However, when the individual decides to categorize his personal information as confidential, then it is thrown out of the public record, into private record.

Not granting individuals the right to remove such private personal information from Internet searches is abridgement of the right to privacy, which is essential to autonomy that forms the premise of civil rights. Information available in the Internet search database is an extension of an individual. Without the “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches, the individual cannot exercise autonomy over his own personal sphere due to lack of privacy and intimacy. Intimacy is essential to social and moral functions. Internet searches reveal not only public but also personal information whose confidentiality must remain flexible to properly reflect an individual’s sphere of privacy.


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