’Right to be forgotten’ matters in Internet Age
People plagued by endless lifespan of online data
By Park Si-soo
Human beings have a limited memory. Yet the invention of the Internet has prolonged it eternally, creating a fresh form of social headache that didn’t exist in the bygone unconnected era.
Many celebrities here are haunted by articles and photos they posted on social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Some carelessly-written comments during wayward teenage years are reproduced and stir controversy, causing irrevocable damage to their hard-won reputations. Old photos unintentionally divulge their untold story of having perfect looks thanks to surgical help.
An increasing number of ordinary people have also been badly affected by the endless lifespan of online data.
But existing regulations give website operators the exclusive right to delete or modify reproduced content, leaving their customers helpless when it comes to self-control of their own privacy online.
This shortcoming has galvanized people to recognize the significance of the “right to be forgotten” in the Internet age. Promotional campaigns for the unheard-of rights are increasingly gaining momentum worldwide.
Victims of the hazardous online nature include singer Park Jae-bum, whose stage name is Jay Park.
The 25-year-old Korean-American was expelled from K-pop boy band 2PM at the height of popularity in 2009 for Internet postings he had made between 2005 and 2007, during which he was a trainee singer in Seoul.
“Korea is gay. I hate Koreans. I wanna come back (to the United States),” he said in a message to a friend in the U.S. on the social networking website MySpace. This message was discovered by avid Korean fans and then reproduced on countless websites, setting off a furious public outcry and pulling down the idolized entertainer to pariah status.
This scandal compelled his management agency JYP to make a rare public apology for its “failure to carefully manage” its trainee entertainer. Park went into a self-imposed exile for nine months.
Actress Oh Hyun-kyung, 42, is another victim and her ordeal still continues.
She made her brilliant debut as an entertainer after winning the coveted title Miss Korea in 1989. Oh immediately rose to stardom and received a flurry of offers from film makers and TV broadcasters.
Yet her splendid life and dignity was entirely ruined in 1998 after the release of a video clip explicitly showing her having intercourse with her boyfriend on file-sharing websites.
Although it turned out that the sex was filmed without her consent and the boyfriend released it with malicious intent, the media poured harsh criticism on her. The clip and related news stories are freely available on file-sharing websites and major portals.
“It was a nightmare that is still alive,” Oh said in her tearful comeback press conference in 2007, referring to her 10-year self-imposed exile from the pubic limelight. “I have a daughter who began to learn how to read. She loves to search for my photos on websites and used to kiss the screen. But I still find my heart beating out of control when I imagine the moment when she discovers an online article revealing my past.” She implored the media not to comment about the affair in articles on her comeback.
Singer Baek Ji-young suffered similar hardships following the release of a sex video clip on file-sharing websites in 2000.
She was apparently a victim, but she had to endure a barrage of criticism from those who claim she should take partial responsibility for the incident. When the singer made a comeback in 2003, she said she was still afraid to retrieve portals with her name.
Welcoming news against this backdrop emerged in Europe last month.
After two years of investigation and discussion, the European Commission has proposed a set of ambitious online privacy rules that would allow users to demand that information about them be deleted by social networking websites, unless such sites have a legitimate reason to hold onto the information.
It also calls for informing users of when their data will be collected, how it will be collected and how long it will be stored as well.
The core of the package, experts say, is to uphold what has become known as the “right to be forgotten.”
This is the first proposal of this kind, and if endorsed will force website operators to tell users about data breaches within a certain period of time or face hefty fines.
“The protection of personal data is a fundamental right for all Europeans, but citizens do not always feel in full control,” Reuters quoted European Commissioner Viviane Reding in charge of data privacy as saying.
The commissioner said the proposed rules are particularly aimed at young people as “they are not always as aware as they could be about the consequence of putting photos and other information on social networking websites.”
Reuters said the bill is expected to become law by the end of 2013, if approved by all 27 EU member states and the European Parliament.
But this move has rattled major Internet based firms in Europe with their executives concerned the legislation will be almost impossible to implement in full or will cause serious damage to their business model.
They complain access to a certain amount of personal information, including the digital traces that people leave after using the Internet for any length of time, is a critical element in their business model.
Unlike Europe, South Korea is idle on the issue. So far there has been a conference held early this month, where Internet experts and privacy activists made a symbolic declaration reaffirming the significance of the right to be forgotten.
The country’s Internet regulator, the Korea Communications Commission, is also taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“The right has been ignored for so long, but the time has come to revive it,” said Shin Yong-tae, vice chairman of the Korea Society of Internet Ethics. “It may not be easy to enact a law to protect the right, but to make the rule is now indispensable, not optional.”