7th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (IX). Internet Privacy and the Right to Be Forgotten

Notes from the 7th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Net Neutrality and other challenges for the future of the Internet, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 11-12 July 2011. More notes on this event: idp2011.

Panel: Internet Privacy and the Right to Be Forgotten
Chairs: Esther Mitjans, Director of the Catalan Data Protection Authority and Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Barcelona

Norberto Nuno Gomes de Andrade, Scientific Officer at the European Commission, working at the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS, Spain)
The Right to be Forgotten. An Identity Perspective

The right to be forgotten should be anchored to the right to identity.

The data protection – data privacy – identity triangle: the data protection directive presents and apparently harmonious and coherent articulation of the concepts of data protection, privacy and identity. Data protection protects the righ to privacy by relying upon the notion of personal identity. This assumed harmonious connection is flawed and problematic. In reality, it is much more complex and dynamic.

Data protection should be procedural right, while data privacy and identity should be substantial rights. Substantial rights are a social interest, while procedural rights set the rules, methods and conditions through which those substantive rights are effectively enforced and protected.

Right to identity is the right to be unique, the persons’ definite and inalienable interest in the uniqueness of their being. The right to identity is infringed if person A makes use of person B’s identity in a way contrary to how that person B perceives his or her identity.

Right to privacy protects the personal condition of live characterized by seclusion from, and therefore, absence of acquaintance by the public. Right to privacy is only infringed if true private facts related to a person are revealed to the public.

The right to be forgotten can be seen from an identity perspective. Reinforces the anti-essentialism view of Ientity (a narrative identity): a process of negotiation, social construct, a matter of choices; corresponds to the ever-expanding manner in which law is allowing the individual to infuence aspecte of their identity; and matches the rational of the right to identity: the right not to have one’s identity miss represented, right to new beginning, right to be different Unot only from others, but also from one self).

The right to be forgotten from an identity angle also coves the facts that are already in the public domain, public factas, and covers also the not-necessarily truthful or decontextualized information, the one that is out-dated.

Milagros Pérez Oliva, Ombudsman of El País

It is worth noting that the information that appears on a newspaper is very different from the one that appears on a social networking site. In principle, all the information published in newspapers is public interest, and thus, that information should be publicly available. The problem is when (a) newspapers upload all their archives to the Internet and (b) finding out information (oftentimes serendipitously) is now easy and cheap and quick.

Historical archives cannot be modified and must be public. Period. Of course, that is not the final solution in the case of information vs. privacy, but the beginning of all problems. A first recommendation is to write new information according to some cautionary rules: avoid names (just initials) if the person is not a public celebrity, avoid contextual information that can lead to their identification, etc.

The problem comes with already published information. The suggestion could be to put out of the search engines’ reach some obsolete information. The problem comes, again, with defining what is obsolete information, or what has become non-relevant information.

Yet another problem, added to obsolete information or non-relevant, is incomplete information or plain wrong information. Those are pieces of news that were discontinued (e.g. trials) or never corrected and that pose a problem, as there are thousands of pieces of news within this category.

There is a need for a collective decision on how to add or link new information to an already published piece of news.

María González Ordóñez, Head of Legal for Spain, Portugal & Israel, Google Spain

Google’s policy is to not delete personal data from their cache if the original source has not also deleted those data. In this sense, Google is very respectful with what instructions a webmaster gives to Google (usually via robots.txt) in relationship with indexing and caching.

This policy is based in the fact that Google wants to provide what is available in the Internet. If Google erases information that still is on the net, the search engine will lose transparency and neutrality. On the other hand, there is also the fact that Google can do the very same claims of newspapers concerning the right to information and freedom of expression.

Ricard Martínez Martínez. Professor of Constitutional Law, Universitat de València

We have a dire need to balance the different rights put at stake with the digitization of our lives.

And as citizens usually cannot control their profile on the net, the responsibility to take action relies, on the one hand, on the legislator to design a legal framework, and on the other hand, on the online service and content providers.

We could try and have new tools to “prune” our public information. And those tools should be developed by the industry itself.

More information


7th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2011)