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Pondering the right to be forgotten and forgiven online
By: Kevin Benedict
Jan. 2, 2017 10:00 AM
"You have a memory like an elephant," is truly a compliment. Researchers document all kinds of remarkable examples of the recall power of elephants, and this is credited with their ability to survive harsh environments as noted in this Scientific American article.
Our human memory also helps us learn from past experiences and mistakes, avoid recognizable hazards and keep track of our very busy lives. Our memories for the most part have served us well, but the same might not always be said about digital memory in an always connected, real-time world.
One of the most valuable concepts known to man is hope. Hope is the belief that things can change and get better. It is the belief that one can turn the page and start a new life. It is the motivation that draws many to get out of bed each morning, recover from past mistakes, and go to work.
Bankruptcy laws were designed, in part, to give hope. The Supreme Court in 1934 describes it this way, "It gives to the honest but unfortunate debtor...a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt." It gives debtors hope for a better future. Source.
Today our second brains, the digital memory banks in the cloud controlled by programmed algorithms, don't forget. Algorithms are programmed not to forget our histories, our bankruptcies, our youthful indiscretions, our convictions, DUIs, our vices, our former lives. They make it difficult to forget, transform into a better version and start fresh.
The more our lives, through digital interactions, are driven by and influenced by digital algorithms and second brains, the more important it becomes to consider the issue of digital forgiveness, digital redemption and digital hope. Hope that in the physical and digital world, you have the opportunity to start fresh, and change your life for the better, unencumbered by your plethora of mistakes, digitally remembered, biasing the future. Few of us, with the exception of Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, are the same person we were in our youth.
I can think of many scenarios where a person may want to change his/her life and leave the past behind, but algorithms and second brains won't let them, unless somebody programs them to forget. If they are not programmed to forget, our digital interactions with websites, businesses, governments, police, search engines and match-making sites will hang-on to our past and use it to judge our present and future. Where is digital forgiveness in the digital era? Where is the ability to hope for a different and better life free from our past if algorithms are programmed to always reference, remember and judge based on our past?
Just because something is technically possible, does not automatically make it good or worthy. We as humans must define how we want digital technologies to support the world and society we desire. The Supreme Court in 1934 thought it was good and worthy to forgive and forget, to give people the "right to be forgotten," in order to let a person start fresh. I believe it is time to let people be digitally redeemed in a similar manner.
The "right to be forgotten" concept has now been made into law in the EU, and variations of it have been implemented in other regions around the world. It was motivated by the desire for people to "determine the development of their own life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past." Read more here.
In Germany they have implemented a law titled the Federal Data Protection Act, or Bundesdatenschutzgesetz (BDSG). The law is designed to protect individuals' personal rights from being injured through the handling or mishandling of their personal information.
I believe the "right to be forgotten" is an important consideration and discussions. In a digital world fueled by data, capitalism is not a sufficient safeguard for our personal privacy and future. We must imagine the world as we want it, and make it so as a society.
Hope is a critically important concept to humanity, and it must not be allowed to be stamped out by unbridled digital algorithms and second brains. We must all recognize, in a digital age - that hope matters.
Follow Kevin Benedict on Twitter @krbenedict
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