Should we have a right to be forgotten online?
Updated: Jan 26
If you google yourself maybe you like what you find. Maybe you don't? One of the greatest things in our lifetimes is the invention of the internet and the entire collection of human knowledge at our fingertips. But with all the good that has come of that there has also come some strange new facts of life. Employers may be able to find pictures of you at halloween parties in college. New love interests can read what your ex says about you on thedirty.com
In the 1950s, before the internet, online databases, and information sharing, if you got into some hot water or wanted a fresh start you could simply move to another state and start over. It was difficult for others to continually punish you for a single error in judgment. Now even private companies can search and find criminal history information that is stored online as a matter of public record. Your divorce or child custody matter is stored online for anyone to view. The twitter mob is ready to cancel you the moment you step outside of the approved social media opinion zone. (The overton window)
Europe has adopted a legal doctrine called the right to be forgotten. Debated here in an intelligence squared debate hosted in 2015.
Texas has laws for expunction and non-disclosure that can allow you to restrict the disclosure of criminal history information. The last two times the legislature has met in 2017 and 2019 the laws were expanded and you can now seal records related to Driving While Intoxicated cases under certain circumstances.
But does this go far enough? Non-disclosure only relates to the government entities. In Europe the right to be forgotten has caused lawsuits with google being compelled to de-list private websites that contained crime or marital infidelity information.
All of society is having to adapt to the existence of technology that puts personal history at your fingertips. I have had many conversations with lawyers who say, "If facebook was around when I was in college, I'd probably be in jail right now!" As we all seek to adapt with this new reality let me make a couple suggestions.
Reserve judgment until you are satisfied you know all the facts; and
Don't judge the value of someone's life by a headline placed on them by another.
You may miss out on the best employee you have ever had if you removed them from consideration because they had a DWI 10 years ago.
You may pass on the love of your life because you decide you don't date people who are divorced.
You may contribute to the anguish and suffering of another who has been wrongfully accused and vindicated but is unable to remove the label that others have placed on them.
You should reserve judgment until you are satisfied you know all the facts because I have seen countless times over my career that online databases and even official criminal history checks can be flat out wrong or incomplete.
As a prosecutor I held people accountable for their actions and I was proud to do it. I applaud citizens being informed about the past of people they are going to hire, or date, or involve in their lives. Get the information, but don't substitute it for your own judgment of the person. A person's life is worth more than the time spent on a google search. If you find something you weren't expecting in someone's past I encourage you to ask them about it. You will find out more about their character when you hear an explanation in their own words then you will from all the criminal background checks and google searches on earth.
Now forget you ever read this post and click the link again and share with a friend!
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