Britain is trying to be excluded from a new European Union proposal that would allow people to delete most personal details from social media sites.
Called the "right to be forgotten," the recommendation is likely to become part of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, according to The Guardian newspaper.
But the British government says it creates “unrealistic expectations” and wants to be excluded, the newspaper said. “Our concern is about how difficult (or impossible) this may be to achieve in practice and how it could lead individuals to believe falsely that they can achieve the absolute erasure of information about them,” the paper quoted U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office. “We know from the efforts of well-resourced and motivated individuals that it can in fact be impossible to remove information from the internet once it has been posted. We are concerned that this right, as billed, could mislead individuals as to the degree of protection the law can offer them in practice.”
“The title raises unrealistic and unfair expectations of the proposals,” the statement added. “We are also concerned about potentially impossible requirements for data controllers to manage third-party erasure; the 'reasonable steps' required by the draft regulation would promise much, but deliver little.”
The EU's current regulations on the topic were enacted in 1995, when less than 1 percent of Europeans used the Internet. Now, the right to be forgotten is important to many Internet users. For instance, the number of complaints related to the right to be forgotten jumped 42 percent in 2012 in France alone.
Yet the attempt to update the regulations has led to an argument as “tensions” increase “between freedom of expression and privacy as increasing numbers of people complain that their online reputation is being corroded by outdated, inaccurate or malicious information that cannot be removed,” The Guardian explained.
The EU justice commissioner's office is trying to find a solution to complaints about how Facebook and other social media sites retain and handle personal information.
“At present a citizen can request deletion only if [data is] incomplete or incorrect,” Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, told The Guardian. “We want to extend this right to make it stronger in this Internet world. The burden of proof shall be on the companies. They will have to show that data is needed.”
"[But] the British government have asked us not to do this and [would prefer] two laws: one for Britain and one for other people, meaning there would be separate layers of complication. I have exchanged letters with [the U.K. justice secretary] Chris Grayling on this, which is rather like Kafka,” she added. “Britain is meant to oppose red tape; here Britain wants a supplementary layer of red tape. It's crazy. The UK wants 27 rules – one for each country."
Grayling apparently wants specific rules for small and medium-sized enterprises, known for operating nationally – but that creates other problems. "I am surprised to learn that it would be the intention of the U.K. to introduce a new layer of complexity, cost and risk of non-compliance by having one set of obligations for domestic operations and one for cross-border operations," Reding wrote to Grayling.
Facebook expressed its own concerns about the proposal. Richard Allan, Facebook's director of policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a statement, “The core concept that you as a data subject should be able to delete your personal data is absolutely reasonable. It's something we implement on our service.”
"[But] we have concerns about the workability and consequences of a mechanism where organizations start sending each other instructions about data that needs to be removed. Our worry is that it will take up resources and won't be effective," he added.
As the EU proposal now exists, organizations that fail to comply with a request to delete personal data could be fined up to 2 percent of yearly global turnover, according to Computing.co.uk.
In a related topic, Reding recently met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and discussed, among other issues, a data protection agreement covering police and judicial information. There are “ongoing negotiations” now underway. “They noted the importance attached on both sides of the Atlantic to providing a high level of personal data and privacy protection for all individuals,” according to an EU statement.
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