Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remembering and Forgetting in Berlin

I've spent a few days in Berlin, and I've spoken with many interesting politicians and journalists about privacy. The most interesting case must surely be this one:

Two German Killers Demanding Anonymity Sue Wikipedia’s Parent

In some countries in Europe, like Germany and France, there are well-established principles about the "right to be forgotten", an awkward translation of the "Droit a l'Oubli." As a privacy-sensitive guy, I'm all for the idea that people ought to be able to walk away from some awkward facts at some point in their lives. But I have never heard anyone be able to tell me how the "right to be forgotten" does not quickly cross the line into censorship. If two German murderers can require German publishers to remove references to their names in articles after they have served their sentence, isn't that censorship? And wouldn't it be even worse if they tried to re-write news archives, which are now rapidly becoming instantly findable online? And in the real world what will be the consequences if German Wikipedia deletes content that English Wikipedia still publishes?

And while I was in Berlin, I visited the Holocaust memorial, as I always do when in Berlin, and I wondered about the "right to be forgotten" in the midst of the memorial to "never forget".


Alex said...

This post really got me thinking. Thanks Peter. Generally, the way we forget is to make new memories, not erase old ones. Much like a stack in Computer Science (except with a lot leakier...) the old memories get pushed down and are harder to access.

Given that, I'd say that it is incumbent upon someone who wants us to forget something in their past to do something more remarkable in their present. That way the wikipedia article will be weighted over time toward their new life.

Things like the holocaust memorial are there to remind us that despite all of the positive new memories we have collectively made since those dark days we should keep that particular memory nearer the top of our stack. It has important lessons.

I think the 'Right to Forget' is being confused here with the 'Right to Erase' here.

deincognito said...


Rewriting reminds me Big Brother book.

In Spain media can avoid this due to freedom of speech if its limits are respected.

Good luck in Italy trial.