Antoon De Baets, ‘A historian’s view on the right to be forgotten’

This essay explores the consequences for historians of the ‘right to be forgotten’, a new concept proposed by the European Commission in 2012. I first explain that the right to be forgotten is a radical variant of the right to privacy and clarify the consequences of the concept for the historical study of public and private figures. I then treat the hard cases of spent and amnestied convictions and of internet archives. I further discuss the applicability of the right to be forgotten to dead persons as part of the problem of posthumous privacy, and finally point to the ambiguity of the impact of the passage of time. While I propose some compromise solutions, I also conclude that a generalized right to be forgotten would lead to the rewriting of history in ways that impoverish our insights not only into anecdotal lives but also into the larger trends of history.

Antoon De Baets, A historian’s view on the right to be forgotten. International Review of Law, Computers and Technology. DOI: 10.1080/13600869.2015.1125155. Published online: 21 Feb 2016.

First posted 2016-02-23 13:58:47

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