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The right to be forgotten

June 27, 2011

The inaugural meeting of The Cardigan Continuum met on 24 June 2011 to discuss ‘the right to be forgotten’ . The discussion was wideranging and interpersed with a pleasing sufficiency of food and drink. For further details, see the comments section of this post, where those who attended have been invited to post their views (if they can remember them) in order, it is hoped, to facilitate a continuing conversation drawing in additional voices. Why not add your own?

  1. I am still not entirely sure what a right to be forgotten would entail – is it just about getting those drunken photos on Facebook removed or something more? The feeling of the meeting seemed to be that one thing which was really at issue here was the re-negotiation of the personal/professional boundary in individual’s online identities and I think that is correct and something worthy of further exploration.

  2. Hi Jenny, I enjoyed the evening, and liked the fact that we did actually spend a fare chunk of time discussing the article that you set. I think the problem with the ‘right to be forgotten’ is the distributed nature of web 2.0 applications, and their viral nature When someone sends a tweet it doesn’t just sit on the Twitter servers, it is pulled down by the client devices of people who are following that twitter feed. So I use Tweetdeck on my laptop and echofon on my phone, and both those have copies of the tweet. Even if you get Twitter to delete it it wouldn’t go from those client devices for a while. And it would probably still exist in search engine caches etc.

    The viral nature of these applications means that information exists in multiple places. So the Ryan Giggs super injunction breaking tweet, then gets retweeted by multiple different twitter people, and in different languages, and then people found oblique and humerous ways of giving out the information in a tweet. And then it spreads to Facebook… If Ryan Giggs wanted to exercise his right for that affair of his to be forgotten they would have to rip out a months worth of the internet!

    I think the big issue is how can we stop people being victimised/discriminated against for what people might find out about them on the web?

    I really like the simple formula you used for the meeting of simply naming a place, a time, and an article.

  3. 80gb permalink

    I’ve kind of forgotten what we talked about. Pun not intended, I just have a bad memory I think. But anyway… I do remember talking about issues around control, and also what the difference might be between a right to be forgotten and a right to privacy. And I seem to remember saying that I felt that ‘forgetting’ has a time dimension, whereas ‘privacy’ is something in the here and now.

    Mayer-Schönberger’s book Delete was also mentioned. Serendipitously, this Guardian article put in an appearance on archives-nra this morning (via Jen Parker):

    • Jenny Bunn permalink

      Thanks – I enjoyed the article. Another one worth a look is ‘The Autological Constitution of Digital Artefacts – An analysis of the implications of ICT on memory institutions’ by Attila Marton (

      Basically forgetting is the new remembering! Or, as put more seriously by the author of the article, “Organized social forgetting (instead of collective remembering) finally led to the differentiation of a memory institution into libraries, archives and museums as distinct organizational systems that are able to increase their capacities to remember by forgetting more”.

  4. Here is another interesting article in the Guardian on digital identity and control ( . We discussed the issue of control over information at the last Cardigan Continuum meeting and I think control over information be it personal information online or company information is still a major topic in RM and archive circles. Are we losing control over information and is that just a natural development in a more user-focussed information environment?

  5. I’m sorry that I could not make the first get-together.

    There is a lot of momentum in Europe behind the ‘right to be forgotten’
    movement. It featured in consultation documents issued recently by both the European Commission (in connection with re-development of the
    Directive) and the Council of Europe (in connection with its own data protection Convention). The relevant EC Commissioner – Viviane Reding – has spoken in support of it. The UK government does not support the right – the Lord Chancellor spoke out against it at a recent speech in Brussels – but that does not mean it is going to go away.I think it has come about from social networking but any ‘right to be forgotten’ presents considerable threats to the preservation of archives if not defined and limited so as to protect them. I don’t have any problems with people being able to obliterate their Facebook stuff but would worry if they were able to have their decennial census entry destroyed (as in oz) or their heath records destroyed. It is not only archives that might suffer. There are also implications for operational effectiveness – for example, patient health could suffer if health professionals cannot get access to information about previous diagnoses and treatment because health records had been destroyed at the patient’s request.

    There is an associated and perhaps underlying issue around who (1) owns and (2) controls the information. Legislation may say that patient health records are public records under the Public Records Act but how many people feel that their health record belongs to them, not the Crown? Can ownership and control be distinguished? And how far can the subject of the information control information that exists because an organisation is providing a service or having some other form of dealings with them – the organisation has some rights too. Which of course takes us back into data protection territory ….

    Incidentally, these are my personal views and not the official views of TNA!

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