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Right to be forgotten on the web unworkable, argue data watchdogs

26 Mar 2013
A delete button for data privacy

Privacy groups' calls for European citizens to have the right to be forgotten online are unrealistic and could damage the economy, according to representatives from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and European Data Protection Supervisor.

ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said that the right to be forgotten was a step too far, during a Westminster debate attended by V3 on Tuesday.

"The right to be forgotten worries us as it makes people expect too much," said Smith.

Instead, Smith said the focus should be on the "right to object" to how personal data is used, as this places the onus on businesses to justify the collection and processing of citizens' data.

"It is a reversal of the burden of proof system used in the existing process. It will strengthen the person's position but it won't stop people processing their data."

European data protection supervisor Peter Hustinx added the right to be forgotten is currently unworkable as most countries are divided on what qualifies as sensitive personal data.

"I believe the right to be forgotten is an overstatement," said Hustinx.

"There needs to be more transparency. I think all parties need to be aware of their accountability, they need to know their share of the responsibility."

Hustinx said increased transparency will increase users' level of trust, making them more willing to let businesses use their data, thus boosting the digital economy.

"Nobody wants to stifle innovation, no-one wants that. But innovation needs effective data protection laws to increase trust. Investment in innovation and trust go hand in hand," said Hustinx.

Smith added that the lack of consensus within the EC about what data is sensitive proves individual states should be able create their own rules.

"The problem with having exact same rules in every state across EU is the only way you do it is having very specific legislation," said Smith.

"My concerns about my privacy are not the same as those of somebody in Sweden or Italy or the Czech Republic. Too much harmonisation is a problem but we need more consistency."

The deputy commissioner highlighted the recent privacy case against Google as proof of the need for self legislation.

"Look at Google with the payload data they take from Street View. We didn't do a very good job there," said Smith.

"Some of our colleagues have found Street View unacceptable, but we think banning Street View because of privacy invasion would be a step too far and not what our citizens want. Other nation's citizens may feel differently."

Earlier, UK justice minister Lord McNally had attacked the proposed privacy overhaul, warning the costs accrued by businesses would cause untold harm to the region's economy.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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