Should Email List Owners Worry About the “Right to be Forgotten?”

Last January 2012, the European Commisioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citicenzip, Viviane Reding, proposed a new privacy right called the “The Right to Be Forgotten,” which has now been made into law as part of a broad new proposed data protection regulation. The Right to Be Forgotten has been explained as a mere expansion of existing data privacy rights, but many have considered it as a big threat to free speech on the Internet in the coming years. Email List owners, in particular, are included in the groups that will be heavily hit by the right.


What is The Right to Be Forgotten?

The Right to Be Forgotten is aid to be inspired by French law, which recognizes the “right of oblivion,” which basically allows a convicted criminal who has already served his time and proven to be rehabilitated to object to the publication of details regarding his conviction and incarceration. This right clashes with American law, which allows and protects the publication of someone’s criminal history via the First Amendment.

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The Right to Be Forgotten, when it was first suggested, aims to solve one key problem In the digital age: that it becomes hard to escape the past because the Internet now lets every photo, status update, tweet, or article live forever in the cloud. What makes people oppose the right is that it is no longer limited to just cyber criminals, and not restricted to personal data that people have given out on their own accord. Instead, they have a right to ask for the deletion of “personal data,” which is defined broadly as “any information relating to a data subject.” According to the proposed European right to forget, when someone demands the deletion of personal data, the ISP “shall carry out the erasure without delay” unless in cases where the data is “necessary for exercising “the right of freedom of expression” as defined by member states in their local laws.

Why Email List Owners Should Be Worried

Based on its definition, it should be easy for email list owners to understand why the right to be forgotten is something to be worried about. List owners depend on personal data that users have given away on their own accord (the less said about list owners who take personal data without permission, the better.) usually in exchange for special offers or other benefits. With the Right to Be Forgotten, users can now demand those data to be completely erased anytime they want, even after they have already given their permission, and even after they have already received the special offers or compensation.

What makes the right especially harmful to list owners is that it’s completely out of their hands. They don’t get the opportunity to defend themselves, nor are they the ones who must delete the data. Once the court orders erasure of the data, it is the ISPs that must delete the information without being required to give advanced notice to list owners. Imagine if your otherwise healthy and profitable mailing list suddenly loses many of its subscribers because the ISP received an order to delete several users’ private info. Clearly, the right to be forgotten needs to be reviewed carefully to ensure that it is designed for the digital age instead of a haphazard mandate culled from decades-old law.


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