The ethics of the right to be forgotten – the ethics of the hippocampus
Requests and questions and pleas on the right to be forgotten now surface from everywhere. An ethical perspective on the issue helps us to respond. Ethics are the rules of conduct needed to live, to go beyond oneself and be present in a world shared with others – to be a part of a community, to be together. It is the duty of each member of this community to reflect upon the ethics shared, and contribute to the shared system of rules and values that establish the way we live together. As citizens, we can influence, in this deliberation, the laws which dictate what is allowed, or forbidden.
Is there a universal code of ethics ?
And dogma leaves no room for the point of view of another. It excludes the search for communal rules except for those who have the same convictions.
Why is this issue at the heart of the discussion between citizens
on one side and search engines on the other?
At a very basic level, the ability to forget is a filter used by our memory to construct this personal space of freedomin which we elaborate our own rules. Memory sorts, selects, processes and rejects to create a solid structure that is the “house of our personality’, an area vital to flourish. Metaphorically, almost organically, forgetting (selecting what to forget) is the vacuum by which we breathe. It frees us from what oppresses us; as a biological means of survival, it functions to liberate us from our pains. Sleep participates in our ability to forget, as do periods and practices of mourning. The freedom and the ability to forget are a part of being human, and are a part of life,
as it is a necessary filter to memory.
The Ethics of the hippocampus
One may argue that not removing things from the internet is a positive thing for society: it would force one to walk the straight and narrow line from the start. Of course, anyone who deviates from this line would be condemned to a life-sentence regarding his or her reputation. They would fear the consequences, and act accordingly. People would start to change the way they behave. One can easily see the danger of such a society, as it is reminiscent of a book we all know well by George Orwell, a society founded upon fear and totalitarianism.( In non-democratic societies the internet is being used to this end, and should these people not have the right to remove things that could incriminate themselves?) A certain right to grow up is part of life, as well, and forges humanity; the child learns to walk by falling, and laws should impose the prescriptions of life – not the other way around.
Our ethical code does not propose to rid the world of pain and hardship. But it would confine this pain to the private realm and to one’s personal sphere, where it belongs. Making what is private public against one’s will crosses a line – an ethical one – and will inevitably lead to the courts.
Our traces should not be used to track us down.