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Belmont Club

The Right to Be Forgotten

July 6th, 2014 - 4:48 pm

The “right to be forgotten” in European law has now taken the place of what people in the past used to call “the forgiveness of sins”.  Formerly it was believed that old offenses, especially when these did not result in prosecution or suit, were somehow effaced by the passage of time. “Long dormant claims have often more of cruelty than of justice in them”, says Halsbury’s Laws of England.

But the passage of time has no effect on search engines. Have you ever quoted a news article only to discover it was 5 years old? Some people want to change that by making the record forget in certain instances. ZDnet reports, that “last month, the right to be forgotten was enshrined in European law, thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice. Except it wasn’t a right, you weren’t forgotten, and it hasn’t really been enshrined anywhere. Confused? You’re not the only one.”

In May, the ECJ ruled on the case of a Spanish national who had, over a decade ago, been involved in an auction of property to settle social security debts. When people Googled his name, newspaper stories about the auction appeared prominently in search results. The man thought that the information about him was outdated, and the court found in his favour, ruling that Google must no longer return links to those newspaper stories when his name is searched for. The newspaper articles remain online, and can be found through Google when other search terms are used.

The Clintons, for their part, don’t even need legislation to delete the unflattering. The Boston Globe reports that the University of Arkansas suspended access to a news organization which found records showing Hillary had defended a client accused of child rape in 1975.

The Washington Free Beacon was informed this week that it has been banned from the University of Arkansas’ special collections archive, a sharp and somewhat unexpected response to the news group’s recent reporting on Hillary Clinton’s 1975 defense of an accused child rapist. …

“I am writing you to direct you and the Washington Beacon Press to cease and desist your ongoing violation of the intellectual property rights of the University of Arkansas with regard to your unauthorized publication of audio recordings obtained from the Roy Reed Collection,” wrote University of Arkansas Libraries dean Carolyn Henderson Allen.

The difference of course between the theological notion of forgiveness and its modern court or administrator mandated equivalent is described by ZDNet’s Jo Best. In modern digital forgetfulness the offense is not forgiven. It is expunged, or access to the record is restricted so that memory becomes selective. In practice it gave Google license to implement a Memory Hole:

[a] mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a web site or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened.  The concept was first popularized by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four where Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth systematically re-created all potential historical documents, —in effect; re-writing all of history to match the often-changing state propaganda. These changes were complete and undetectable.

Google’s implementation of forgetfulness began recently.

This week, the first such removals began to come to light. Large news organisations such as the BBC and The Guardian, along with more smaller B2B outlets, all reported Google had contacted them to let them know they were subject to removals, while Google users began to see messages that certain search results “may have been removed under European data protection legislation”.

Google, which already has many of the characteristics intellectuals once ascribed to God has acquired a further attribute of deity: the power to ‘bind in heaven by binding on earth’. If you can’t find it in Google, then maybe it never happened, even if it did. And as is ever the case, whenever a new power is minted it almost always sparks a contest over who gets to exercise it. Jo Best at ZDNet writes:

The wider question is, perhaps, when does that information become outdated in relation to its subject? These are difficult questions for anyone, even those with an interest in how to balance the right of citizens to a private life with the freedom of the press and individuals’ right to information …

Robert Peston, the author of the BBC story on Stan O’Neal that was removed, speculates that rather than have Google make the call, such decisions would be better left to journalists and their publishers.

That in many ways is a return to the status quo ante. In the past the newspapers effectively had the right to make the past disappear. This power was gradually usurped by the search engines. Now it axiomatic that the Web forgets nothing. But if you can’t find it, then it’s gone. Preston’s argument that the power of forgetfulness should be returned to journalism is appealing, but not without its dangers. It is not obvious the public would be better served if Candy Crowley could determine whether Benghazi was remembered or not. As Tommy Vietor noted, ‘Dude, two years is a long time’ when you want to move on.

Perhaps the true purposes of a system are best captured not in what it sets out to discover but what it chooses to remember. The Daily Telegraph reports that the NSA’s took the greatest interest not in those whom it intended to monitor from the outset, but in those it subsequently discovered were the most interesting in retrospect.

Nine out of 10 people identified in a large cache of online conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency were ordinary Internet users and not foreign surveillance targets, a news report says….

The study was based on 160,000 emails and instant message conversations, as well as 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts, intercepted during President Barack Obama’s first term in office (2009-2012). The Post found that the NSA held on to material that analysts described as “useless.”…

These files “tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions,financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”

Some of the files however did include “discoveries of considerable intelligence value.” That included “fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into US computer networks.”

Neither memory nor the past are static things. What’s “useless” today is not “useless” forever. Hillary’s legal defense of a rapist would have no significance if she remained an ordinary lawyer. The significance of her past is a function of her present. As the Soviets knew the future was easy to predict. Why anyone in the Politburo could tell you what next year’s steel production would be — it was the past which was hard to determine.

The crisis of privacy arises from the collapse of the old assumption that information could be viably kept out of the public record. That is no longer true. The digital age has enabled us to voluntarily or otherwise track our every movement, monitor our every heartbeat, whether by smartphone, surveillance camera, smart writstband or Holter monitor is simply detail. The fact is that our tracking systems remember more about ourselves than we do. And once information is recorded it is potentially forever, where it can be hacked or subpoenaed.

The battle to keep information from being collected has been lost. The struggle has moved on to the next-best solution of creating procedures to let it go out of scope. But as ZDNet notes, the procedures don’t really delete the data, it simply selectively remembers it.  The incident of the missing links and deleted searches shows that giving Google “power to forget” is not without its own peril. It is only a half measure for if the only way to forgive is to forget entirely then to remember is automatically fraught with peril.

Perhaps the reason theology came up with the theory of “forgiveness” was it needed a process distinct from amnesia. They therefore believed the divine mind didn’t execute a delete operation  but simply entered countervailing transaction, a forgiveness operation that blanked the consequences for an act, but not the act.  

The appealing thing about God is that idealized attributes can be assigned to Him. With men we are not so sure.  We are notionally kept safe in the Western canon which assures us of the existence of the Truth — an idea which dates from Plato at the least — and which prevents the man-made lie from being ultimately triumphant. Perhaps that’s why the Gospels posit God in the loop with its own Freedom of Information provision. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” But maybe not in the Arkansas, or the NSA or the European courts.

From man there is little appeal. And perhaps the facsimile of truth and a parody of memory is the best we can do. The prisons are clogged both with innocent men and those who are still looking for the real murderer of Nicole Simpson. Each in his way is a prisoner of the lie.

There runs through both religion and literature the fond hope that the truth is out there; that in the end it will come to our rescue or — as we sometimes like to forget — condemn us.  There is an enduring hope there exists independent of the human record a Book in which all true events are remembered, yet in which some will be forgiven.

But for now modern Western civilization has rediscovered Orwell’s adage. Who controls the present, controls the past. Who controls the past controls the future. You have a right to be forgotten, that’s established. Now what shall we forget?

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Top Rated Comments   
I'm sure y'all saw the headlines a few weeks back that announced that Gov Walker of Wisconsin had been charged with certain crimes.

But the truth was that it was old news. Those charges had been filed but the judges threw them out of court - years before. It was almost as if there were some Wisconsin State employees that had a grudge against the governor for some reason. But the news media presented it as if it was a new case.

Here in Florida there have been numerous TV ads about Gov Scot's company being charged with Medicare fraud and paying a huge fine. But before the last election this was all explained. Scot's company had bought a firm that had committed the fraud before it was acquired. Scott was never a target of the investigation.

And lately more ads have appeared, saying that Gov Scott cut over a $billion from education. But they don't mention that after cutting certain programs he then added MORE funding than had been provided before to education.

Then there is the famous Pres G.H.W. Bush supermarket scanner story. It was presented that Bush was so out of touch that he had never seen a supermarket price scanner before. But in reality he was visiting a factory that made the scanners and got to see one all opened up so the articulating arm could be observed, and he found that fascinating. I explained this to one person and he literally shouted me down that it had been Bush at a supermarket.

To the Demos this is all about creating a drumbeat. People will not recall the details but just that there sure were a lot of bad things going on with such and such an administration. They do this not only to attack their opponents but to provide noise jamming of the signal from their own scandals.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh I wish I were well begotten
Old times then were soon forgotten
Look away, look away, look away

I wish I were in Arkansas
Hooray, hooray.
In Arkansas I'll make my stand
To fib and lie in dixit
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Remembering what Mitt Romney did to a locker partner in high school is a paramount importance to the effective knowledge of the populace.

As is forgetting what Sandy Berger stuck in his socks.

We must not be allowed to forget the smallest of details of George W Bush's service record, nor glimpse...much less put in full public view ...a shred of Obama's educational, travel, social security or Midwest Academy/Socialist Scholars records.

What is vital to remember and even more vital to scrub from view... depends entirely on how far to the left or right of center you fall on the political spectrum.

Unevenly applied as it is, makes for a "fluid" national memory.

Therefore, what we remember are not facts. They are the non-conscience consciousness of planted "memories" of some things that didn't happen that way...and others...that didn't happen at all.

National regression therapy...where 80% of the media hypnotists commit intentional malpractice.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (60)
All Comments   (60)
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Could every sixties terrorist, like Obama's Stalinist buddy Bill Ayers, demand that Google "forget" all evidence of their crimes?
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
What? No "The Picture of Dorian Gray" references yet? Now we all have our own portrait stuck away in an attic, just waiting for an enemy to reveal it to the world. All those searches for "midget transexual" and "Gay Communist Muslim seeks same" emails will come back to haunt you.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
During the cold war it was not all that big a secret that transoceanic telephone and telegraph cables were routinely tapped. Law enforcement has been tapping phone lines forever.

So what is different:
Volume. Huge and ever growing data streams and storage tanks.
Digitization. All of above are binary rather than analog.
Analysis. Old telephone conversations, for example, were recorded and played back for human ears to decipher and analyze. Paper trails had to be read and reviewed. Lawyers call it discovery. I sometimes help lawyers in with cases in my field do discovery. If it is of digital data, a few simple searches and a cup of coffee help me unravel mountains of stuff in very short order.

All of this is to say it is as much about signal processing as data storage.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The present status of our schools GUARANTEES that 98% of our past knowledge and history and achievements will be forever relegated to the memory hole.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's the Tragedy of the Commons Core
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let us not forget all the women's lives trashed by Hillary's

"Bimbo Eruption Team"

In her defense of her pathologically abusive husband, William Jefferson Clinton.

...and they run on the "Republican's War on Women"

Orwell, genius that he was, could never have imagined.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Since Google was one of those that started to publish the number of (U.S.) government requests for customers' data (given this is not the U.S. government, yet.. though looking at F.I.R.E.'s lawsuits, you wonder) - they should publish not only the number of demands, but "the demands" - in every country that still acknowledges their citizen's right to speak unhindered, true or false, good and bad, harmful to least of us up to the rich and powerful alike.

I wonder if the judges in some of these cases would have been satisfied if web search told a story organized by date. So someone like, say, Jimmy Carter with his disastrous presidency might be seen to have made up for his failures with later good-works. I've wondered if the web is "dateless" on purpose - date crawled, written and/or data-of-event reported would tend to limit the search engine's ability to arbitrarily order results (for profit or agenda).
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
It used to be that America was the idea that you could always move out West and start over. That ended with social security number tracking.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Forgiveness isn't forgetting. Levinas puts it nicely

Pardon in its immediate sense is connected with the moral phenomenon of fault. The paradox of pardon lies in its retroaction; from the point of view of common time it represents an inversion of the natural order of things, the reversibility of time. It involves several aspects. Pardon refers to the instant elapsed; it permits the subject who had committed himself in a past instant to be as though that instant had not past on, to be a though he had not committed himself. Active in a stronger sense than forgetting, which does not concern the reality of the event forgotten, pardon acts upon the past, somehow repeats the event, purifying it. But in addition, forgetting nullifies the relations with the past, whereas pardon conserves the past pardoned in the purified present. The pardoned being is not the innocent being. The difference does not justify placing innocence above pardon; it permits the discerning in pardon of a surplus of happiness, the strange happiness of reconciliation, the *felix culpa*, given in an everyday experience which no longer astonishes us.

The paradox of the pardon of fault refers to pardon as constitutive of time itself. The instants do not link up with one another indifferently, but extend from the Other unto me. The future does not come to me from a swarming of indistinguishable possibles which would flow toward my present and which I would grasp; it comes to me across an absolute interval whose other shore the Other absolutely other--though he be my son--is alone capable of marking, and of connecting with the past...

Levinas, _Totality and Infinity_ p.283 [] (link continues from omitted page)
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The thief, the adulterer, the traitor – each ever wants his own transgressions to be unnoticed, so shouts the news of sin, loss, and error of some other hapless miscreant within view.

Maybe don't SHOOT the messenger, but at least check his time-card.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
For the eternal record.

The odd mentally handicapped person, who came by his/her unfortunate affliction the honest, old-fashioned way, I can deal with....Even feel charitable toward. In fact many of the mentally challenged are a joy to interact with on occasion as there is generally no pretense in them and there remains the possibility that the so touched will come up with something original and interesting. What you see is more often than not what you get, and their joys and sorrows are evidently manifest.

Not so with the dogmatic legions of willfully progtarded tools who evangelize for the universal distribution of their various maladies. It's them (the carriers) I'm sick of. Willful madness and deceit are their domain. They collectively feed on it like vampires. The more unfortunates who are seduced into submitting to the madness, the bigger the leviathan of suck gets --> the worse things become --> which justifies more feeding ---> things get even worse --> frenzied feeding ensues --> etc etc...Ad nausaeum till the end.

An absurdity of lies, buggery, murder, sloth, dependence, and envy; indeed the entire continuum of sins -- both deadly and the merely debilitating -- are items in the lunchbox of fools.

Any and every moral and mental failing is grist for their millstone of a utopia - as long as it furthers "The Cause".

...Hell, even their fantastical vision for a man-made heaven on earth is terminally retarded and a profoundly unsustainable imposition upon reality.

The consequences of their vision in action will not soon be forgotten...Until the next time civilization acquires a death wish. Which nowadays can be arranged without the burning of deprecated books.

Here we are. The dawning of the age of nefarious.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
'When there's moonbats in the pale white house,
And stupid progs try to ban cars.

Then green whores misguide the planet,
And drugs will steer the stars!

This is the dawning of the Age of Nefarious...'

33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mellow Out, Dudes and Duddets!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
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