Should our digital pasts always follow us around, or should we have the right periodically to wipe out digital slates clean?
The notion of “the right to be forgotten” has garnered quite a bit of attention in Europe, where privacy is more strictly protected than here in the United States. And while there have been some rumblings on our soil, perhaps now is the time for this notion to be taken more seriously in the United States.
The band Simple Minds in the 1980s had the famous song and lyric, “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Back then, before we played our lives out loud on the Internet, the fear was that an individual might not be noticed and might disappear into oblivion.
Fast-forward: We currently live in much different times. Practically everything is recorded for posterity. And this includes not just warm and friendly family photos, but also material that at the time may seem funny and perhaps edgy, and that later may came back to bite.
Imagine a teenager who posts online all sorts of photos, videos and comments related to alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, and her sexual preferences and activities.
In her early 20s, she becomes involved in fringe political groups and posts political rants far outside of mainstream views. She also makes online comments that are disparaging against certain industry groups and employers.
Now, she is in her late 20s, approaching her 30s. She has matured. She does not condone her prior conduct and views, and she wants to get on with her life to build a productive career and more seasoned social relationships. She wants to move on from what she now views is her immature past.
Can she? Or will she be haunted by the digital footprints from her earlier years? Do she have the “right” to say (unlike the song), “forget about me”?
Potential answers to these questions certainly will be explored more thoroughly going forward. Once upon a time, the past easily disappeared into the past and people could reinvent themselves as their lives progressed. This really does seem to be an important interest, and perhaps even a “right” that will need to be more fully mapped out.
In the meantime, with everyone now online, as I have said before, hopefully we will give others the benefit of the doubt in terms of what might show up from the past — we do all live in glass houses.