A right to be forgotten raises practical concerns as well as theoretical. "It's almost absurd to say we have the right to disappear from public domain," said Martin Abrams, a policy director with leading global privacy think tank Hunton & Williams. "We're really talking about the right not to be observed in the first place.... We've been focused on symptoms rather than the underlying issues."
Abrams is far from enthusiastic about Europe's proposed right to be forgotten -- he'd rather people focus on what he considers the real issues of Internet accountability and the increasingly popular notion of "data stewardship" among corporations. Data will inevitably be out there, Abrams believes, and what matters now is a dialogue about how to retire certain data. There is great value, he emphasizes, in using Internet data to model the future and permit innovation -- he brings up positive examples of this, such as Google-supported HealthMap, which tracks infectious diseases around the globe by synthesizing public data. You can't go west and not be known anymore, Abrams believes, but we can move beyond a "rhetoric hump" and reach a more realistic and practical level of dialogue on data responsibility.
"How do you create a space where we're free to analyze the data but not free to abuse the data?" Abrams considers. "We've been asking the wrong questions."
And why is Europe asking questions about the right? Because, Abrams said, Europe is used to legally processing all its data, whereas America grants far more permissive rights of observation of behavior and its data -- which, when extended to the Internet, affect how companies observe and model our activity. The Europeans resist this digital observation without consent. But the European model runs strongly against American traditions of free press and expression. Up until now, the fight for the right to be forgotten has remained largely within the province of Europe. That can't last forever though -- especially given how many global Internet titans remain based in the U.S.
"The Americans run their show," Werro said, "but can they impose their rights on the rest of the planet?" Europeans are, Werro continues, equally sensitive to the use of personal images and especially the "merchantability" of personal data by corporations. A European sensibility would not, he added, easily accept the invasion of privacy that occurs so frequently in American media. He brings up Fox News, which to keep coverage of the Eliot Spitzer scandal alive, chased after the prostitute-in-question's grandfather at 9 p.m. on a Saturday.