Online Privacy: An Individual's Right to Invisibility

By: Silvia Menkes

Do humans have an inherent right to choose what information about them stays on the internet? This has been a long time European conflict regarding "the right to be forgotten". This movement began in French government under the term "le droit à l’oubli" meaning "the right to oblivion". Under this proposed law, if a person felt that photographs or information regarding them no longer belonged on the internet, they would be able to force a platform or search engine to erase the data as it would be their right to withhold that information. This sounds all well and good until it begins to pose a threat to freedom of expression.


When we think about our right to privacy and controlling what is said or shown about us online, it sounds like a great plan. However, this would cause a stream of problems. The first major problem has to do with if someone else shared information about another person. With this concept in mind, the person would be able to force the other to take the information down. But this goes against the many efforts made in developed nations to limit censorship and stop people from hindering creative expression. In America, if implemented, allowing people to control what information about them is available online can and will most likely lead to breaches of first amendment rights. Hypothetically, if someone was to take a photograph of a friend and posted it online, if the friend wanted it gone it would have to be deleted. This example doesn’t seem very complicated but when looked at on a larger scale, it becomes a complex problem. This would particularly affect journalism as it is a field based off of speaking and reporting on available information.


The second major problem that exists within this movement is the erasing of history. There would be nothing stopping a criminal from wanting incriminating information on his past removed from search engines. This would put a major strain on historical records as they would be left incomplete. Initially, this movement was limited to only European websites and searches but lately, there has been a push by the French Data Protection Authority to delete information from “”. Although this is typically considered the Americanized version of google, since the information is still accessible in various European nations, they demand for it to be deleted on there as well. This is a majorly controversial task because within the United States, this would be a breach of First Amendment rights and the concept of a free and open internet. Google has so far been refusing but this will likely become a worldwide argument over data protection.


Even though this path to internet invisibility and privacy has its many flaws. I still believe it is a step in the right direction. With our highly technology oriented world, it is extremely hard to control what information stays private. There should be changes made to the way the law is enforced that incorporate motive or intent for sharing the information. For instance, a criminal’s history being removed from online records should not be treated the same way as someone wanting a controversial Facebook status removed. Over all, people should have some form of a right to control their own lives and information. We will never be truly invisible online, but, we can at least work to maintain that information intended to be private stays private.

Source: Huffington Post
Source: The NY Times
Percentage of People Seeking Privacy Online
Removal of Digital Footprint 86% of people on the internet have attempted to remove their digital footprints.
Achieving Anonymity 55% of people on the internet have tried to avoid being watched by governmental organizations, groups, or individuals.
Survey Data
Internet Protection 68% of people using the internet do not believe there are strong enough existing privacy protection laws.
Trust in Anonymity 59% of people using the internet do not believe it is possible to achieve full web anonymity.


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