In the past month, Google was reported to have been inundated with requests from European users for removal of search results leading to personal information from the world’s biggest search engine.
The right to be forgotten has been one of the key social agendas of the European Union and the regional bloc has, for years, debated on whether individuals should be allowed to have personal data about them deleted from the internet. The European Court of Justice finally ruled in May that personal information that did not affect public interests must be removed on request.
Why Koreans are in need of a right to be forgotten
The desire to be blotted out has caught flame in Korea, where internet privacy has been major social issue for the past few years with breaches of privacy, large-scale data leakage and witch-hunting having taken place. For instance, a member of a popular pop group was in essence exiled to the United States after netizens discovered an old post on his MySpace page about his dislike for Korea. Even individuals without celebrity status can become a target of witch-hunting or cyber bullying through the accessibility of personal information online. Two years ago, Korea’s online community saw random photos or videos of people acting rudely or abnormally on the street. The individuals captured became a source of online gossip and were easily identified, along with their personal details and even occupation revealed in a matter of hours by online users who dug through various channels of social media blogs and other websites. On a much greater scale, millions of Koreans were affected by leakage of their personal details including their social security number and credit card details on one of Korea’s 3 major telecommunication companies – and segments of their private information continue to float around the Web.
As a consequence of such misuse of private information, individual rights are violated. Privacy breaches lead to undesired consequences from masses of spam mail flooding one’s inbox or even cybercrime using personal details. Moreover, when a person is the subject of false information or rumours, his or her dignity is affected by such defamation. The damage could even lead to the harm of a person’s professional career or prevent employment. Therefore, it is evident that Korean citizens are particularly in need of autonomy over their details circulating online as there lies unlimited potential for abuse or mishandling. With a web of ramifications, the arguments against the right to be forgotten including claims for freedom of expression and public interest do not seem convincing.
What progress is being made in terms of the right to be forgotten?
Catching up with the proliferating notion of the right to be forgotten, the Korean Communication Commission (KCC) announced on August 4th a number of policy initiatives to be taken in the following year. A key issue discussed would be the question of limiting the removal requests to private information only, or expand the terms to blog posts, comments and various other online data. During this process, the commission will also consider how copied content or links to the material will be tracked.
For the dignity of those deceased, the KCC is planning to develop a method for their private information to be managed by relatives or those appointed by the individuals. It will encourage internet companies to offer services through which relatives, or those appointed by the individuals, can deal with the online information.
Furthermore, as a means of encouraging technological advancement in terms of the right to be forgotten, the KCC will offer incentives to companies that adopt a Digital Aging System which automatically deletes personal information after a certain amount of time.
Exempted from deletion will be media reports and information or statistics related to national security and criminal investigations in order to maintain the freedom of expression and preservation of information.
Looking beyond borders, the KCC also aims to strengthen international cooperation for the right to be forgotten, entailing the protection of private information. In order to implement speedy deletion of private information leaked overseas, a personal information protection centre will be established abroad in countries like the United States. Moreover, Korea will actively participate in international conferences such as the OECD in order to cooperate in investigation and conflict resolution related to misuse of personal information.
In light of its plans to enforce the right to be forgotten in Korea, the KCC appears to be making considerable progress. Taking into account the various issues and concerns being raised in Europe, drawing the line between private information and public interest as well as managing information on foreign websites or servers should be the main points addressed. In this way, observing and learning from the current European model of the right to be forgotten will produce a more comprehensive and fruitful set of legislation for the nation.
Kim, Sang-yun; 2014/08/04; “방통위, 잊혀질 권리 법제화 착수한다“; Edaily