A New Concept In India
Recently, a submission of the Central Government in the Delhi High Court suggested that the legal notion of the right to be forgotten is evolving in India and it falls under the category of the right to privacy, but it added it has no significant role to play in the matter. Petitions across courts have been seeking enforcement of this "right" - a legal principle that is not yet backed by statute in India.
'Right to be forgotten' is a fairly new concept in India where an individual could seek to remove or delete online posts which may contain an embarrassing picture, video or news articles mentioning them. "The Government of India, understanding the need to protect its citizens and their privacy, has brought out the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019. This Bill contains provisions related to the doctrine of 'right to be forgotten''. The Supreme Court has not dealt with a case directly on the right to be forgotten issue. However, various High Courts have received such requests.
The right to be forgotten is distinct from the right to privacy. The former involves removing information that was publicly known loan at a certain time and not allowing third parties to access the information; whereas, the latter constitutes information that is not publicly known.
The right to be forgotten has its roots in the French right of oblivion which allows convicts to prevent the publication of facts about the crime committed by them. The General Data Protection Regulation adopted by the EU in 2018 lays out the circumstances under which the right applies. Each request is applied individually for its merit. Russia is in 2015 enacted a law that allows users to force a search engine to remove links to personal information on grounds of irrelevancy, inaccuracy and violation of law. The right to be forgotten is also recognized to some extent in Turkey and Siberia, while courts in Spain and England have ruled on the subject.
Supporters of the right to be forgotten argue that it is necessary due to issues such as revenge porn upload. To ensure references to petty crimes individuals may have committed in the past don't haunt them. Potentially undue influence that such results exert upon a person's reputation, if not removed. On the other hand, critics concern that it would decrease the quality of the internet through censorship and the rewriting of history. Also, it would impact on the right to freedom of expression. They also raise questions about the practicality in attempting to implement such a right. Also, those in power could misuse this mechanism to erase or whitewash news and records of past offences. North Korea, for instance, routinely deletes images of officials no longer in favour with the ruling regime.
The concept of privacy and the straight forward right to be forgotten trace back millennia: privacy has doctrinal foundations that dates all the way back to the Old Testament. Friedrich Nietzsche famously contended that, "Without forgetting it is quite impossible to leave at all". The right to be forgotten is a limited privilege that can be difficult to exercise. The courts have been somewhat inclined towards recognizing the right to be forgotten when it can harm an individual's rights. There are several things mentioned above in favour of this right and with the legislation that is expected to be put in place, this right can be meaningfully exercised in India. Strong safeguards must be built in against such possibilities. But just as it is critical to learn from mistakes to not repeat them it is important to not view individuals only through the lens of their past. Sometimes it is right to forget.