Rules of the Internet: Right to be forgotten

Rule 38 of the Internet – “No real limits of any kind apply here — not even the sky

 

TL;DR: how is this all related to cyber warfare? Scroll down!

Spending all previous post on explaining the sort of untamed environment the Internet is, it becomes rather obvious that the discussion from now on will turn to the darker side, and how the internet has become a hub for contemporary crime and, eventually, warfare.

On May 25, 2018, the European Union announced an obligatory implementation of the now almost a who-not-be-named online – the GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation. The heavy weighted legislation, which rippled across all imaginable business pages which have at least some part of their audience or customers in EU, regulates using, collecting and distributing personal data relating to individuals in the EU in connection to professional or commercial activity, and is applicable to any individual, company or organisation, with an exception for processing data of deceased persons or legal entities.

Moreover, GDPR included highly disputed Article 17 – “Right to erasure (‘right to be forgotten‘), and it is exactly what it sounds like. Summarising the heavy legislative language, an individual has a right to approach any online data holder, processor or collector – for example, Google or Wikipedia – for all collected information to be erased “without undue delay” under conditions:

(a) the personal data are no longer necessary in relation to the purposes for which they were collected or otherwise processed;

(b) the data subject withdraws consent on which the processing is based according to point (a) of Article 6(1), or point (a) of Article 9(2), and where there is no other legal ground for the processing;

(c) the data subject objects to the processing pursuant to Article 21(1) and there are no overriding legitimate grounds for the processing, or the data subject objects to the processing pursuant to Article 21(2);

(d) the personal data have been unlawfully processed;

(e) the personal data have to be erased for compliance with a legal obligation in Union or Member State law to which the controller is subject;

(f) the personal data have been collected in relation to the offer of information society services referred to in Article 8(1).

(Article 21 refers to the right to object, on the grounds of a particular situation, at any time any processing of personal data)
(Article 8.1. refers to the consent of processing data of children below 16 years old)

 

To make it more transparent, if there is no legal reason for information to be accessible online, especially using search engines, individuals should have a right to request to remove it. The precedent was ruled at the European Court of Justice in 2014 when Spanish citizen Mario Costeja successfully argued for his out-dated financial details would be removed from Google.

The internet giant is still debating the full implementation of the right with the European Court of Justice, however, it seems like the plates are on the EU side.

Google’s position has not changed since 2015, as lawyer Kent Walk said in a blog post:

Adopting such a rule would encourage other countries, including less democratic regimes, to try to impose their values on citizens in the rest of the world.

 

Concerns voiced by both sides are highly important and valid, however, it brings the debate to this melting pot of “whose rights are more important”. The main argument from EU legislators, which Google is not very fond of, is that people do not want to be found through any possible search engines online, and, happens to be so, Google is currently the monopoly of data distribution worldwide (with an exception in China). Therefore, under the Art.17, the data would be deleted from Google databases, but not entirely from the internet – that is, if you know where to look for it, you should be able to find it.

But the abstract wording of the legislation does not do a favour in arguing for it – as Google boldly asks, how should one person’s right to be forgotten be balanced with the public’s (and journalists) right to information?

 

So wait, how is this all related to cyber warfare?

 

If we consider cyber warfare to be a combination of offensive, semi-offensive and defensive measures taken by the government or non-government actors with political or non-political agenda behind possible espionage, sabotage and/or propaganda, the right to be forgotten has awfully a lot to do with cyber warfare, and, first of all, with tracing down the footprint of any person.

The discussion has been hijacked by the accounts for “freedom of expression” and “freedom of speech”, especially in the United States or Western Europe. However, there is no such point in the discussion when it comes to the grey fields of Russian sponsored trolling mechanism, employed, now almost stereotypically, in the countries of the former Soviet regime. The grey propaganda and right to be forgotten can be easily combined outside the digital world, and conveniently used by people who are handy for the government, interested in disrupting the society or raising the everlasting feeling of dystopian nostalgia of how the world was 30+ years ago.

I will be talking about the employing of nostalgia and obscure facts later on, but for the time being, I will leave you with this.

When a dubious message of Soviet past starts to spread across the net, there are three types of responses – first, the resistance, or people, who recognise it as nonsense, distorted reality or use of convenient potholes in documentation of any historical fact, for example, any bit of history related to Forest Brothers; second group, are the ones who recognise the dubious facts, but the seed of hesitation is planted, especially if the group is generally not fond of current regime/politics/people in the government and their line of action, the narrative of “it was better in Soviet times” comes up quickly and easily – and the message starts to be shared; and the third group are ones, who have no clue of what is being talked about, but the arguments seem legitimate enough for them to create an opinion on any topic that is being discussed, and they share the information or make assumptions without backchecking, if what they are reading is true.

Long story short, if people were fact checking certain news websites on what they are publishing years ago, we would not be talking about widespread online news disinformation right now. Whether it is good or bad, you decide.

But with the right to be forgotten, with the support of influential or at least somewhat powerful actor, anybody can become who they are needed to be. We have already seen how false facts are being distributed across the web with the help of random websites and bot armies sharing the falsified content, and regular internet users are unable (or unwilling) to back check the information that appears in front of them. Right to be forgotten, if necessary, makes sharing false information easier – because a person receives a white blank page on the internet.

A luxury every single politician, influencer, famous person or revealed spy would like to get.

Google is still standing strong against the worldwide implementation of the right to be forgotten, but is it standing for the right reasons? Should the right to ultimate privacy be higher than right for the public to know the real reasons behind person’s actions? We will have to see.

That is it for this time.

Stay awake and keep away from trolls.

Cartoon credits @ MAC

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