A right to delete? More like a responsibility to not say something stupid.

Nooooo! Why did I post that!? I'm such an idiot! Delete, delete, DELETE!

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.

One could attempt such protection of privacy through setting up your own mail server or social media website; thus not relying on a private provider whose privacy policy and data retention practice you do not trust.

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.

Matthew Lesh is a 19-year-old student at the University of Melbourne. He tweets @matthewlesh and has his own website located at matthewlesh.com.

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      05:29am | 15/10/12

      Hi Matthew,

      I have always thought that at the age of the Internet we were so much smarter than the previous generations!  We have always relied on some kind of electronic gadget to actually make us more attractive and intelligent from the rest.  So where did we actually all go wrong?  May be trusting ourselves far too much especially when it comes to the fact needing other things such as doing proper research, gathering valuable information and unique talents that make us somehow a little more diverse in our outlooks on life in general.

      When it comes to the proper use of Facebook and Twitter, a little reminder that we do have the convenience of our cell phones to let our family members and friends when we decide to go out to a nice restaurant or what we actually had for breakfast.  At this age of information technology and information sharing, I have noticed that some so called famous people are using the Twitter so casually that it is painful to watch and read about their very extra ordinary lives as well as them informing us of every step that they actually take like popping into a hairdresser, restaurant or into a taxi.

      And while we are at this topic of Facebook and Twitter, most governments are already controlling millions of users not from themselves but more so the other users being influenced by some messages we all consider to be a little bit out of the ordinary!  A bit like statements and expressions of very sensitive issues which can endanger our national security, much more than the vulgar or obscene language which is sort of becoming very fashionable these days.  Kind regards.

    • Mahhrat says:

      06:12am | 15/10/12

      You can’t misquote silence.

    • Random. says:

      10:12am | 15/10/12

      Random Person likes this

    • mattkas says:

      05:04pm | 15/10/12

      Too true Mahhrat. Silence is golden. Please don’t “like” me on Facebook or “follow” me on Twitter, because I’m not there and never will be.

    • Fiddler says:

      06:42am | 15/10/12

      Or maybe people should stop caring so much what everyone else says.

      Does anyone think that the text messages Peter Slipper sent made him unfit to hold office? Prior to David Campbell being outed at Kens of Kensington pollies were allowed a certain amount of privacy, now the thought police are well and truly in existence, except it isn’t the givernment, it is the media who run them.

    • Jeremy says:

      07:00am | 15/10/12

      Never before has so much data been kept for so long. Limiting data retention isn’t a complete solution, but it’s better than not doing it.

      Simply citing the magic invocation for not caring, “personal responsibility”, hardly makes up for the damage this stuff can do. We should be trying to reduce that damage, not pretending it doesn’t matter because the person somehow deserves the devastating consequences many years later.

    • Al says:

      07:29am | 15/10/12

      Jeremy - so you are proposing that we need to protect people from the consequences of their actions.
      I’m sure that the proffesional criminals will be all for that.
      Personal responsibility is not a magic invocation. It is simply an expectation that an individual needs to be held responsible and justify their actions when required as it was their personal choice to do said action.

    • Modern Primitive says:

      08:01am | 15/10/12

      Jeremy, you missed the point. Personal responsibility is about not putting up incriminating evidence in the first place.

      General rule I go by: if you wouldn’t want it repeated on the 6 o clock news, don’t post/email it. Is simple, yes?

    • serenity says:

      09:07am | 15/10/12

      Its simple dont put yourself out there on the internet to be misinterpreted. Dont say things you would never say in public or to someones face. I dont use twitter or facebook as I dont feel its vital for me to inform people of my every move

    • Fiddler says:

      12:26pm | 15/10/12

      wait twenty years from now when they are quoting stuff people put on facebook as a 14 year old when they are running for politics. We as society need to be a little more forgiving of this stuff.

    • Al says:

      02:01pm | 15/10/12

      Fiddler - don’t worry, it will all be claimed as being taken ‘out of context’.
      Either that or they will be able to explain it as something ‘I believed it at that time but have since revised that based on a growth in knowledge and experience’.
      The standard responses to a view that they now wish to distance themselves from.

    • Admiral Halsey says:

      09:28am | 15/10/12

      Loose lips sink ships!

    • Emma2 says:

      11:15am | 15/10/12

      Having a ‘right to delete’ could interfere with legal cases too. e.g. if someone was able to successfully delete evidence.

    • subotic says:

      11:21am | 15/10/12

      I should not be protected from my own stupidity, and neither should you.

      I own all my online diatribe.

      It’s part of my charm….

    • Anubis says:

      12:57pm | 15/10/12

      Huh - Subotic has charm?  When did that happen? tongue laugh

    • Brent says:

      01:27pm | 15/10/12

      I couldn’t care less what people think of what I have posted in the past and I don’t regret a single thing I have put on line, why? Because it was an honest opinion I held at the time. What people think about it is of no concern to me

    • LC says:

      02:49pm | 15/10/12

      If you wouldn’t shout it through a megaphone in your local supermarket, then don’t put it on the internet. How hard is that?

    • cherie says:

      05:43pm | 15/10/12

      If some one sends me “A Hug a Today ” or “You are Lovable”. I will delete it.
      Who writes this crap.
      I once heard you should never say anything, that your Parrot will repeat.


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