I should not be protected from my own stupidity
A right to delete? More like a responsibility to not say something stupid.
Over my years of online activity I have made my fair share of remarks that retrospectively I regret. This has been the price of growing up in the Internet age and beginning my digital journey well before my teens.
However, there is simply no way to delete the past or undo who I was. Ultimately, I must take responsibility for my actions, and take steps to change my behaviour in the future. I should not depend on government to protect me from my own stupidity.
Recent public debate surrounding allegations of tabloid hacking in the United Kingdom, and discussion about media ownership and regulation in Australia, have lead to an increasing consideration of the so called “right to privacy”.
This has manifested in some quarters as a possible right for young people to be able to delete their past in order to protect their future.
Malcolm Turnbull, in the context of data retention laws, recently discussed the possibility of “right to delete” in his 2012 Alfred Deakin Lecture, looking at liberty in the digital age.
This is a fantastic concept for someone in my position, I would love very much to hide many of the silly things I have done in the past. But the very concept is both technologically impossible, and at its core a contradiction to the very liberties that we want protected in the digital age.
On a technological level, such a right is impossible to implement. We cannot hide what we have done in a digital age, let alone attempt to remove its existence.
However, even this would not fix your problems – in the case of email it will inherently always exist on another server i.e. where it was sent to.
Thus, unless you intend to create a law that enables the manipulation of another person’s inbox, then it is impossible to guarantee a complete deletion.
In the case of a social media site, even one that you control, there is nothing precluding another user of the service from taking a screenshot or saving the page. Even supposedly private conversations in text message or online chats have proven able to permanently damage one’s reputation.
It is the very ease of communication that can lead to the most personal damage, as former speaker Peter Slipper experienced first hand with text messages. Information technology gives us the power to store, search, and use data. However, we must understand this also means that others can store, search, and use data that we provide.
Furthermore, it is ridiculous to suggest that there should be a positive right to require the deletion of data.
A social media site gives you the ability to communicate and make connections and in exchange you provide it some level of data. When we signup to Facebook, Twitter and any other social media sites we agree to certain terms and conditions about data usage and retention.
In response, we can either choose to minimise the risk with responsible usage and receive the reward of using the service, or not involve themselves online. There is no need for Government to take responsibility for our individual lives and what we post.
Any attempt to introduce a “right to delete” would likely limit online innovation by creating a massive regulatory burden upon the industry, in an attempt to “protect us from ourselves”. Moreover, it would set the precedent for far more draconian online data monitoring and control.
We should instead understand the costs and benefits of online interaction, and live in the knowledge that for better or worse data is extremely easily transferable and spreadable in today’s society.
The Government should not use its arbitrary powers to intrude on our personal lives using technology. Subpoenas and warrants to intercept communication or access data are reasonable; assuming proper protections are put in place to protect innocence.
However, it is unacceptable to assume guilt by tracking our online activity through data retention laws, or deciding what we can view online through the proposed so-called “clean feed” internet filter.
This is not a matter of a “right to privacy” but simply the key tenets of how a liberal politic should respond to the digital age - a response based on scepticism of new government control.
The solution to that stupid email, or that embarrassing Twitter update, is to not send that email or post that tweet. If you have sent it, you as an individual must ultimately take responsibility for your actions and live up to the consequences.
Don’t look to government to protect you from yourself. It will only limit your liberty by reducing your personal responsibility.
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