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Legalising Information – Should Zimbabweans have the “right to be forgotten”?

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Back in May, the European Union’s Court of Justice ended a legal spat that binds Google to pay attention and where possible, comply with an individuals’ request to erase information from its search engine.

Search engines in their entirety were tied to this ruling all of Europe, allowing people to censor data when searched on the web. This got me wondering – As Zimbabweans (or Africans) should we also own the “right to be forgotten?”

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The ruling passed by the EU court allows an individual to erase information that is old, irrelevant or that could in any way infringe on the user’s privacy. This could be information from news links, court judgments or other documents with search results in their name.

In many ways, you can be able to keep a clean sheet to rid yourself of previous bad records. With privacy on the verge of being voided in every possible way, this could just be a new way to secure it but could also be a double-edged sword.

For one, the internet seizes to be open. This could channel more requests leading to less information online — defeating the purpose of ever being free in the first place. While everyone is entitled to their own privacy, it makes it a tad  bit harder to access information for research purposes. The same reason Wikipedia is speaking out.

Are we making a big mistake?

Censoring information leaves lots of grey holes on the web. A majority of people in Zimbabwe use Google to find information. Anything happening you want to know about? Google comes through. You want to learn what happened to X two years ago? Google comes through.

Imagine trying to conduct a search on a scientific experiment by a local lecturer/scientist only to be disappointed, greeted by an error message claiming that a link has been taken down. It’s like taking a huge step back.

How could this be any different from being restricted access to online content on platforms like the Netflix and Scribd of today? Maybe for regional purposes, but how about when your subject covers a local entity? There may not be a clear answer but filtering information on these terms could just be a step in the wrong direction.