Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Paul Ohm

Second Advisor

Jill Dupre

Third Advisor

John Bennett

Fourth Advisor

Dick Green

Fifth Advisor

Susan Nevelow-Mart

Abstract

The advent of the Internet has brought with it new forms of information sharing in unprecedented quantities as well as significant developments in storage of and access to information. The fear that users must be careful about what personal information makes its way online because it will be there forever is prevalent and policymakers have begun to take action. The European Union has spearheaded such policy efforts proposing a right to be forgotten and to erasure.

The E.U. Data Protection Directive of 1995 has had more international impact on privacy than any other regulatory tool. However, because of the stark differences between the U.S. and Europe, special treatment for U.S. companies was granted. Unsatisfied with the protections the Directive now offers, the European Commission has proposed an updated regulation including the controversial right to be forgotten, which seeks to address the potential harms and limitations of personal information left behind in a digital world. Although intended to protect only E.U. citizens, the effects of European regulations are felt internationally and are of particular concern to those in the U.S. Less concerned with privacy, the U.S. protects the right to free speech and access information more fiercely than any other country. The right to be forgotten pits these values of access and speech against the ability to develop and change in the digital age.

This dissertation provides a five part analysis of the right to be forgotten. The first analyzes the value the right seeks to protect, forgiveness, and its relationship to forgetting. This part also analyzes existing American laws that embrace informational second chances. The second part focuses on creating a model for an information life cycle based on the value and use of digital information online over time and the way in which the right to forgotten can be altered to recognize this process. The third part considers alternative remedies for the threats of online permanence, namely technological solutions, norm changes, market options, and legal recourse. The fourth analysis focuses on the proposed right to be forgotten put forth by the European Commission and suggests that it conflates two privacy issues that should be separated. The final section analyzes the four responses non-E.U. entities may take and concludes that the right to be forgotten should be altered to avoid wide-spread abuse and encourage international acceptance.

In sum, this dissertation contributes (1) an analysis of American forgiveness laws to consider a right to be forgotten in a U.S. context, (2) a description of an information life cycle to support a right to be forgotten that is based on informatics and information practices, (3) and long term and short term adjustments to the right to be forgotten to successfully manage the tension between personal growth and information access.

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