Thursday, April 15, 2010

To tweet or to delete?

How would you resolve the conflict between the cultural imperative to archive human knowledge and the privacy imperative to delete some of it? To put this in perspective, compare the approaches of the US Library of Congress and the French Senate.

As reported by The New York Times, the "the Library of Congress, the 210-year-old guardian of knowledge and cultural history, ...will archive the collected works of Twitter, the blogging service, whose users currently send a daily flood of 55 million messages, all that contain 140 or fewer characters."

Meanwhile, the French Senate is moving in the opposite direction, as it explores a law to legislate "the right to be forgotten". The French Senate has been considering a proposed law which would amend the current data protection legislation to include, among other things, a broader right for individuals to insist on deletion of their personal information. The proposed law in France would require organisations to delete personal information after a specified length of time or when requested by the individual concerned.

To take another example, this time from Germany. A court there was recently asked to consider a legal action by two convicted murderers (now released from prison) seeking to force Wikipedia to remove their names from an article documenting their criminal past. While the case is ongoing (as far as I know), the German language version of Wikipedia has agreed to remove the names from the article in question. The two men are now seeking to force the Wikipedia Foundation to delete their names from the English language version as well.

Well, I think we'll be blogging and tweeting about this dilemma for some time, knowing that our tweets will be archived. I testified to French Senators recently that I could never support a privacy "right to be forgotten" that amounted to censorship. I wonder if they tweet in the French Senate, and if they know their tweets are being archived in the US Library of Congress?

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