EU data proposal would likely lead to search engine filtering, says ENISA

Tools

If the European Parliament approves a right to be forgotten as part of a data protection proposal unveiled earlier this year, it's very possible the result will be large-scale search engine filtering, says the European Network and Information Security Agency.

In a paper (.pdf) released Nov. 20,  the agency says technical means alone don't exist that would permit individuals to control the distribution of information about them on the open Internet.

Existing attempts at time-limiting data don't deal with scenarios in which published data is subsequently re-encoded or depend on widespread key storage and distribution that in some cases are anyway vulnerable to attack. Digital rights management software has already proven it can be bypassed with moderate effort, the paper also says.

In any case, in an open system such as the Internet, it's generally impossible to locate all personal data, including derived data. Because of that, the act of data removal could even have the opposite intended effect, since the data targeted for disappearance could be inferred through correlation of different sources.

As a result, it could become necessary to require search engine operators and other data sharing services, such as Twitter, "to filter references to forgotten information stored inside and outside the European Union region," should the proposal become European law, the paper says.

In addition, paper authors note that a right to be forgotten raises questions about whether a desire to be forgotten by one person overrides the desire by a co-owner to preserve data. For example, if a blog writer incorporates a tweet from a person who subsequently demands its disappearance, must the blog writer remove the entire post? Or rewrite it? What about, the paper also asks, photos with more than one person in them? "Who gets to decide if and when the photo should be forgotten?"

That question becomes more complex when the existence of particular data is in the public interest. "Should a politician or government be able to request removal of some embarrassing reports?" the report asks.

The proposal also isn't clear in its definition of personal data, the paper says. Language in the proposal leaves the door open to the continued existence of personal data, despite the wishes of an individual, that could be used to identify an individual with high probability but not exact certainty. Neither is it clear whether the proposal could extend to data that identifies not an individual, but a small grouping of them, such as a family.

For more:
- download the ENISA paper, "The right to be forgotten--between expectations and practice" (.pdf)

Related Articles:
Privacy and freedom of expression can't always coexist
Solove: Privacy regulation a failure
European Parliament approves passenger name record sharing agreement