Resolved: The “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.

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Resolved: The “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.

This will be a difficult topic for students to wrestle with. The literature is fairly limited because the issue is a more recent one. This topic will require creativity and clever application of philosophical traditions. There’s a lot of room for interpretation, and because reality hasn’t afforded us a clear definition of what some of these things mean, there’s also a lot of room for abusive and wonky positions.

In any case, let’s dive in!

Definitions

Right to be Forgotten from Internet searches – The right to be forgotten, simply understood, is the right to have personal data about yourself removed from the internet. For example, let’s say a teenager posts an inappropriate picture on Facebook that they later regret. That picture is then spread around by his/her friends. The right to be forgotten says that the person can file a request to Facebook to remove any trace of that picture, and they must take all reasonable efforts to do just that. Similarly, personal data which can be found on Google is also subject to the same right. The key here is that the resolution does not specify where this data had to have originated, and that specification is also not available in the real world just yet. Does a corrupt politician have the right to request details of his shenanigans be removed from the interwebs? That is the type of question debaters must tackle when dealing with this topic.

Civil Right – A civil right is a right afforded to a person by society or a social contract. As compared to natural rights like life and liberty, these rights are not granted simply by virtue of a person being a person, but rather, they are rights afforded in the context of an organized system, like the right to vote. The purpose of this designation in the resolution is that it’s much more difficult to argue that the right to be forgotten is a natural right. How does internet anonymity follow from one being human? Therefore, the resolution is asking us to focus on whether or not this should be a civil right, specifically.

Ought – Ought means should. Like most resolutions with this word, it is will be the crux of any argument. The debater must first establish how we determine what things are civil rights, and then use that system of determination to explain why, or why not, the right to be forgotten ought to be a civil right.

Case Positions

Neg

1. Rights as Claims – Rights function as claims on others. That is to say, for every right I have, somebody else has a corresponding obligation. In this case, the claim on another is the inhibition of free speech. Affording the right to be forgotten to people places an obligation on others not to share information that is available in the public domain. This is particularly important in the case of indicting information for public figures. The right to be forgotten limits free speech unfairly, and therefore, ought not to be a civil right.

2. Impossibility of Enforcement – We cannot say something which is not possible ought to be. Enforcing the right to be forgotten is an impossible task and places an impossible burden on data vendors. The internet is a difficult place to police. Google doesn’t control everything that can be found with Google. Facebook doesn’t control everything that can be found on Facebook. The afford people this civil right is to send moral agents into a realm of impossible burdens, and therefore, this cannot be a civil right.

3. Rights as Protections – Civil rights function as protections of other rights. My right to vote functions as a protection for my liberty. The right to be forgotten is not a protection of anything. It doesn’t protect privacy, since this information is in the public domain anyway. It doesn’t protect security, or speech, or any other right. Because it doesn’t serve as a protection, it cannot actually be a right.

Aff

1. Property Rights – Personal data and information is property. Allowing another person, or persons, to see your property does not give them the right to use it as they please. For example, if I show somebody my house, that doesn’t mean they can move in and start living there. If they do, I have a right to ask them to leave, and they are required to do so. Similarly, if I post a picture (my property), it does not give others the right to use that picture as they choose. If that ends up happening, the I have the right to request that those uses be stopped.

2. Coherence Theory – Coherence dictates that new moral principles should cohere with already established moral rules. By the way, rights are moral rules. We already have an established moral culture of privacy. Despite the interests of other parties, we have never willingly condoned people not having control over information pertinent to them. In order to continue that, a right to be forgotten is necessary. People should be able to control their public image, so long as removing the information comes with good reason like its inaccuracy.

3. Truth – Truth is the most important thing. We must work to paint a picture of the world as it actually exists now, and this includes accurate representations of a person’s public image. Mistakes cannot be forever, because if they are, then we violate our obligation to the truth. A mistake make years and years ago should not color one’s perception about the truth of a person as they are now. Therefore, we ought to afford people the right to be forgotten in order to protect this commitment.

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29 responses to “Resolved: The “right to be forgotten” from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.

  1. I’ve thought about playing with the idea on aff of equality; people who are constantly in the news/media will have embarrassing items buried in a google search because there are so many new things about that person but people who don’t have that fame are not afforded the same luxury. The right to be forgotten is an equalizer in that respect. My friend argues that this is easily turned by the neg. Thoughts?

    • You know, I actually really like this idea, but I would argue it the other way. I’d say that people who are famous constantly have their privacy violated and all their personal information spread everywhere. The right to be forgotten allows them to have the same luxury that normal people do of having their privacy protected.

      I also don’t think it’s easily turned by the neg. I’m not sure how you’d turn this point.

      • I think the neg’s turn would have something to do with the equal loss of privacy argument. We all lose the same amount of privacy (arguable premise) through the Internet search engines displaying that info and we all equally benefit from the violations of others’ privacy rights. I can look up a potential employee’s information but they can in turn find my information.

      • Well, that only makes sense if the amount of information available is the same. We don’t all lose the same privacy from search engines because there is much more personal information available on the internet about celebrities than there is about the typical person.

      • Thinking aloud/playing devil’s advocate…does the privacy loss come from the internet search or the actual material though? For instance, a link accessible by search that nobody clicks on results in no net privacy loss because the “embarrassing” material is never viewed by the public. Conversely, something embarrassing when viewed is equally embarrassing whether accessed via an internet search or located via other means — the route taken to get there does not change the degree of privacy lost once the material is viewed. Since the RTBF and resolution only deal with internet searches, thereby allowing the material itself to stay on the web, what is the privacy benefit in the post-resolution world?

      • Accessibility is where the violation of privacy occurs. For example, if I have a picture in my house, then my privacy hasn’t been violated. However, if somebody takes that picture and puts it in on the bulletin board at work, my privacy has been violated. It doesn’t matter if nobody looks at the bulletin board, I should still be able to ask that the picture be taken down. The question isn’t the route itself, but rather the accessibility in general.

  2. This is a pretty hard topic but i think that every body should not be able to gain access to anybody’s name or account without prior permission and if someone tries to request for his/her name to be forgotten, it should be.

  3. This is a pretty hard topic but i think that every body should not be able to gain access to anybody’s name or account without prior permission and if someone tries to request for his/her name to be forgotten, it should be.

    • I wouldn’t recommend citing me; other sources are more credible. However, if you do want to cite me, you can cite my name and say I’m the author of this website.

  4. I have been looking for a couple hours, but I can’t find anything that actually states that personal information is property. I get the premise of it, but I can’t actually find an article for it, if someone could recommend a source or give some suggestions on how to look for that type of information that would be great!
    tried google scholar
    Jstor and most basic search engines.
    Thx!

    • I’m not sure why you need a source to just repeat your argument. Remember, warrants should be used to support your arguments, not make them for you. You will have a tough time finding a source that says exactly that, but it’s your argument to make. All you have to do is prove logically why personal data is property.

  5. I have been looking for a couple hours, but I can’t find anything that actually states that personal information is property. I get the premise of it, but I can’t actually find an article for it, if someone could recommend a source or give some suggestions on how to look for that type of information that would be great!
    tried google scholar
    Jstor and most basic search engines.
    Thx!

  6. Why would the Truth argument be an Aff argument? I can see it being stronger as a Neg argument because by erasing personal information, we’re allowing people to erase mistakes in the past. That’s effectively changing history which contradicts the idea of painting the truth. Due to the impossibility of implementing such censorship perfectly, there’s bound to be many cases of people trying to erase personal information that may be detrimental, but at the same time accurate and necessary. An extreme example could be politicians, however I believe that the court ruling states that they are excluded due to the “preponderant interest of the public”.

    • I would say that the truth is time dependent. The truth about a person 10 years ago is not the same truth as it is now. The right to be forgotten also protects against the deletion of relevant information. Irrelevant information is more destructive to the truth, and in order to construct an appropriate reality, people must be able to remove that irrelevant information. I agree that there are bound to be people who try to delete accurate and necessary personal information, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the right. For example, people use their right of free speech to promote terrible political views, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to free speech.

      • Note: I realized that I asked a similar question before, and my new comment is not showing, so I’ll post here just to make sure.

        Is the Aff argument of Truth really a valid argument? After discussing it with others, I realized that it’s quite easily turned. Aside from pure mistakes, personal information in general can be requested for removal. This is not only intruding on Freedom of Speech, but also is effectively changing history. And I believe that for the Aff to win this argument, they would need to be able to win generally. In other words, they would need to be able to address most scenarios, however the only aff argument is that the RTBF protects us from defamation and false light information. Am I mistaken/missing something here?

  7. Is the Aff argument of Truth really a valid argument? After discussing it with others, I realized that it’s quite easily turned. Aside from pure mistakes, personal information in general can be requested for removal. This is not only intruding on Freedom of Speech, but also is effectively changing history. And I believe that for the Aff to win this argument, they would need to be able to win generally. In other words, they would need to be able to address most scenarios, however the only aff argument is that the RTBF protects us from defamation and false light information. Am I mistaken/missing something here?

    • The right to be forgotten is not carte blanche to request the removal of any information. By definition, the information must be irrelevant or inaccurate. Therefore, it runs directly contrary to the truth. How is the argument easily turned?

      • Ughh I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow. I’m sure there’s some compelling argument, however I’m probably just not getting it right

      • Haha, sure thing! The position is a pretty solid one; I don’t know that it’s as easily turned as you think it is, but it isn’t perfect. That much is definitely true. i look forward to hearing from you.

      • Okay sorry for the late response. Took a week hiatus to do other stuff. I realized it isn’t turned as easily as I claimed it was, but I’m still curious as to who you’d defend your argument. Couldn’t the neg claim that the truth encompasses even mistakes? And why wouldn’t we let politicians exercise RTBF if it’s to paint the truth? Is their mistaken data not irrelevant merely because they are publicly related? Doesn’t that simply mean it’s undermining the truth even further because it’s viewed so many times? Or am I missing another piece of vital information 🙂

      • I’m not sure I understand your question exactly. The truth position is not about painting or constructing “a” truth. It’s about constructing “the” truth. Irrelevant or outdated information can inappropriately taint another person’s perception of reality. RTBF can be exercised by politicians and others if it is truly irrelevant information. However, certain information may be relevant for a politician’s political campaign while it isn’t relevant in another person’s life. Politicians can still exercise RTBF so long as the information is actually irrelevant. Let me know if that makes sense and answers your question.

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