Friday, May 13, 2011

"the right to be forgotten"

BBC: Wikipedia boss Jimmy Wales criticises injunctions

The online encyclopaedia has fallen foul of UK privacy law in recent weeks, with details about those using super-injunctions appearing on the site.
Mr Wales said his personal view was that privacy laws were "grave injustices and human rights violations". "They should be done away with as quickly as possible. There should be no law constraining people from publishing legally obtained, factual information," he said. Exceptions to this would be information that was life-threatening, such as troop movements.
"But we aren't talking about that. This is embarrassing facts about politicians and celebrities".

I didn't know they were called "super-injunctions" in the UK. Actually, I was meaning to write about this topic a few weeks ago when I saw a dubiously titled Yahoo News/AP item [also here] about "the right to be forgotten" which smelled to me like one of those news items that is spun to make it seem like it was about the rights of 'the little guy' when in fact it was advocacy, via an ostensibly non-editorial, straight news story, regarding the rights of the wealthy and elites generally, and the presumptive rights of the encroaching security state, here and elsewhere.

Internet 'Right to be Forgotten' debate hits Spain:

MADRID – Their ranks include a plastic surgeon, a prison guard and a high school principal. All are Spanish, but have little else in common except this: They want old Internet references about them that pop up in Google searches wiped away. In a case that Google Inc. and privacy experts call a first of its kind, Spain's Data Protection Agency has ordered the search engine giant to remove links to material on about 90 people. The information was published years or even decades ago but is available to anyone via simple searches.

Scores of Spaniards lay claim to a "Right to be Forgotten" because public information once hard to get is now so easy to find on the Internet. Google has decided to challenge the orders and has appealed five cases so far this year to the National Court. Some of the information is embarrassing, some seems downright banal. A few cases involve lawsuits that found life online through news reports, but whose dismissals were ignored by media and never appeared on the Internet. Others concern administrative decisions published in official regional gazettes. In all cases, the plaintiffs petitioned the agency individually to get information about them taken down.

Why, for example, should a surgeon get the law to help him hide the fact that he was sued 18 years before? If one must regulate searches for court decisions, wouldn't a statement that automatically pops up reminding us that they may be subject to appeal be sufficient?

Some people get this and some people don't. Perhaps ironically, traditional, non-whackjob conservatism was supposed to be against this sort of thing. You know, before Freidman and "the Chicago Boys", before Thatcher and Reagan, etc. But that was then, and the expansion of the security state is very much an establishment, bipartisan project most places nowadays.

I remember a few years ago when "COPS" was really popular, before the digital 'blurring" technology was widely available, thinking they wouldn't dare do any of that crap with a camera crew if it was somebody in a nice neighborhood, but they take it for granted that they wont get into trouble with videotaping poor people. This is especially true as their privacy is being violated concurrently with their brush with the law, which for a poor person generally means a major economic hit, because while bail and attorney's fees of a few hundred or a few thousand may be a manageable irritant if you live in a tony suburb, but financially devastating if you're scraping by at eight or nine bucks an hour, and may take years to recover from.

In the early 90s I also saw an article about how threatened and intimidated one semi-anonymous participant felt, feeling she had to co-operate with the COPS people or she would face more grief from the actual cops, especially because of how chummy they seemed. I learned from the article* that they did in fact have the subjects sign waivers, but the narrative painted a picture of very difficult circumstances that suggested the very situation was inevitably coercive. Nowadays of course they blur their faces with digital editing, although there are questions that arise from that too. For example, the blurring of images will make it easy for people to think something is not being hidden from us when it is, and people will be more complacent about it. The edit is quicker than the eye.

More recently I remember hearing of a motorcyclist making the news with his helmet cam video [see video above; the link also includes a longer version of the video] which recorded a plainclothes Maryland state trooper stopping him and pulling a gun on him. He posted it on Youtube and shortly afterward the cops came with a warrant for his computers and camera, per a Md. state law against audibly recording someone without their consent. (It's a felony.)

I'm guessing the Maryland law has been on the books for a while and was originally intended to target surreptitious telephone recording, but clearly it was being utilized in Anthony Graber's case to quash his attempt to embarrass the state troopers. Graber was speeding and riding recklessly, no question, but the idea that it should be so easy for the authorities to be able to confiscate such recordings should sit uneasily with anybody who cares about the law protecting against unlawful police behavior and such.

I don't know what the answer is, and clearly the technologies are developing pretty rapidly. Maybe, for example, shows like "COPS" are a necessary evil in an open society, even as seem to exist to demonize and dehumanize poor people in the eyes of the viewers. I also wonder if the writing is on the wall, and the US may find itself becoming more like Spain and the UK in the future. Whatever happens, it pays to be skeptical when you see an article or program about privacy rights, and the courts and media purporting to be "looking out for the little guy."

more from the BBC article:
Experts warned that the lawyers of celebrities could turn the tables, pressing for ISPs and firms such as Twitter to hand over the details of who is publishing comments on the site.
To do so they would need to obtain what is known as a Norwich Pharmacal order from a judge, the same process used by rights holders to force ISPs to hand over details about alleged illegal file-sharers. "Celebrities could apply for Norwich Pharmacal orders against ISPs, Twitter or other parties holding data that may lead to the identification of a defendant," said solicitor Michael Forrester of law firm Ralli. "The position is much more difficult when dealing with companies based in the US, such as Twitter and Google.

see also Farhad Manjoo, Slate
"Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four: How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future"
Jul 20, 2009

BBC: Facebook smeared Google on privacy

Nikhil Pahwa,,
"India’s CyberCafe Rules Finalized; Foundation For Harassment"

Manan Kakkar, ZDNet,"India's new Internet laws go against fundamental right to freedom of speech"

*I don't remember the title; the article appeared in either Harper's or The Atlantic, I think this was in the latter part of 1993.

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