Digital Archives and the Right To Be Forgotten

Oh dear, I find that the opportunity to “blog” might turn me in to a loud-mouthed small-brained speaker standing on a soap-box, screaming at the passers-by.

I am a fan of a few web-sites. One of which is the a web-site that carries “news” articles and some editorial comments.

Well today it reported on 3 things that immediately got me thinking.

1) One was about an organisation that maintains an archive of the Internet and that by doing so might prevent the creation of “Memory Holes”.

Basically, I think, they take snapshots of many Internet web-sites and commit the snapshot to a “read-only” storage.

2) Another article that the  had was about Google and the European Court of Justice and the “right to be forgotten”. I do not have a broad enough understanding of the legal, or even moral issues, to form an informed opinion.  I sort of feel a bit “iffy” because a printed document (e.g. magazine, book, newspaper…) makes a statement and that statement is archived for ever. So I ask myself why the Internet should be different. The obvious difference is the ease of access to online information, so an incorrect statement once in the Internet is (sort of) forever, but then so is a printed report. The “right to be forgotten” seems to focus on a number of issues:

  • Removing factual incorrect statements that cause damage to the involved people.
  • Removing factual correct statements that the involved people do not want others to know. This in turn breaks down in to:
    • Facts that were legitimately put in the public domain, but never-the-less the involved people want to “hush-up”.
    • Facts that have been placed in the public domain by some-one who has no right to do so.

I have no problem with the idea of “the right to be forgotten” with the first and the last bullets, but the “hush-up” bullet is a real problem.

Anyway, what I find interesting is how the “the right to be forgotten” relates to the archived Internet which (if I understood it correctly) specifically wants to ensure that the “hush-up” bullet does not get hushed-up!

And then, just beause of the way I tick, I reflected back on my blog “Hyde Park Speakers Corner and Digital Dinosaurs Footprint” and wondered about the moral implications of the science fiction story I mentioned.

Without any further thought or analysis, if there is a “right to be forgotten” is there a right to “publish for perpetuity”

3) as I have said in an earlier blog, I am in the telecommunciations industry (since 1979) and have quite a few “hobby horses”. One of my “hobby horses” is about laws and regulations.

I have no, absolutely no, training in law! But my belief is that a law should be an unambigous statement of behaviour/activity that is not permitted.

(I wonder how true that is, there are laws such as “you shall not kill”, but no law “you shall be nice to people”. Laws seem to be, and I am not complaining, proscriptive in nature.)

So a law that says that you are not allowed to drive a automobile on a public highway, without having a valid licence, is okay with me.

Also okay with me is a law that says that providers of telecommunications services can be required to provide metadata and media streams to legally entitled authorities (lawful interception).  Haa, a law that says you shall rather than you shall not, I have just been hoisted by my own petard!

But, it all depends on “what is a telecommuncations service?”.  If I invest in creating a piece of software that enables users to send media streams between themselves, and I create a central databank that lets users see which other users are “online” and where they are (IP address), then I might be supporting telecommunications but I am not providing a telecommunications service. Please no NOT go on about providing addressing information to users is a telecommunications service. It is not, a public library might make copies of the telephone directories available. That tells us under what “address /(telephone number)” a user can be reached. But that is not not not a telecommunications service. Just because some companies provide such informational services “online” does not make their service a telecommunications service.

According to the report on the web-site , if I have understood it correctly, it seems that a Belgian court and Microsoft / Skype are in discussion over whether the Skype service is a telecommunications service.

Hmm, as I said, I am not an authority on legal issues, but I must ask the question: On what basis is Skype a telecommunications service?

I am 100% convinced that it is a telecommunications service IF it physically receives users’ media streams and passes them on, which I think Skype does when at least one of the users is identified by a E.164 public telephone number.

But between Skype to Skype users, identified by a Skype identity, I thought (please correct me if I am wrong) that the media leaves the user’s premises and is carried, without intervention by any Skype infrastructure, to the destination user’s premises. In my (non) humble opinion whatever service Skype provides in that specific situation, it is not a telecommunications service.

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