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The Right to Be Forgotten in the Digital Age


School of Communications Ed Carter hosted co-editor Maria Jose Labrador and contributor Maria Teresa Nicolas Gavilan to discuss their recent book and the right to be forgotten.


“What is it about us that lives online, and how long does it stay? Who’s controlling it?” BYU School of Communications Director Ed Carter asked. “Do you control it or does somebody else?” Carter addressed these questions to communications students during a panel focusing on the right to be forgotten and his recent book, “Google: The Right to be Forgotten and Other Ethical Challenges in the Digital Age.”

The panel focused on the recently developed legal concept of the right to be forgotten, also known as the right to oblivion. Carter hosted the panel alongside his co-editor Maria Jose Labrador of Universidad Mayor and Maria Teresa Nicolas Gavilan of Universidad Panamericana, who wrote a section of the book.

“We share a portion of our lives,” Nicolas Gavilan said during her portion of the panel. “That’s why we have a right to protection.”

The legal right was introduced to the world in 2014 when the European Court of Justice ruled against Google in the landmark Costeja case. During the case, the court ruled that Google had to delist a record of Mario Costeja Gonzalez’s past debt since it was no longer pertinent. The right to be forgotten, the professors explained, is the right to have outdated information about oneself hidden on Google and, to some degree, the internet in general.

“Anytime you want to learn anything about anything, you just Google it,” said Danielle Moran, a BYU graduate student who helped with the panel and was in attendance. “So, when you Google something, is that really what should come up? I think that’s the question.”

“Stuff can get old, you know?” Carter explained. “So, there’s this debate between freedom of expression and freedom of information on the one hand, and privacy and reputation on the other hand.”

While the right to be forgotten is not recognized as a legal or human right in the United States, recent legislation passed by the European Union requires American companies and businesses to act in accordance when working in European countries or with European citizens. Furthermore, recent American public events, such as the recent Kavanaugh hearings, raise the question of when society ought to forgive and forget or if forgetting is altogether bad and wrong.

“Today, more than ever, journalism companies or media holdings are subject to the need to create systems of media accountability and responsibility,” Jose Labrador, Carter’s co-editor and co-panelist, said during the panel. “It becomes increasingly necessary, the right to protect personal data in the digital environment and seek not to acquire a disproportionate public dissemination.”

“Google: The Right to be Forgotten and Other Ethical Challenges in the Digital Age” covers the right to oblivion and the various legal and ethical implications and complications it brings. Each section is written by a different scholar, or a different pair of scholars, and the individual sections address a different aspect of the conversation surrounding the availability of information online, ranging from the Streisand effect to practical obscurity.

The book itself is evidence of the international nature of the discussion happening on the topic. Jose Labrador and Carter originally met in Santiago, Chile and collaborated with other scholars throughout Latin America, including Nicolas Gavilan.

“My involvement really came from my time as a Fulbright grantee in Chile,” Carter said. “Jose Labrador and I were talking and working together and we decided to write something on the subject.”