Is Orwell’s ‘memory hole’ right around the corner?

In George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, the protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth.  It is the function of the Ministry of Truth to destroy all evidence of historical facts that are not what The Party wants history to be at any given moment.  This is where things that ought not to be remembered go to die (unless, of course, it would be advantageous to The Party to be able to recall something that would be of benefit to The Party).

Well, it turns out that in some countries, like Argentina and France (see this Stanford Law Review article), people have the “right of oblivion”, or the right to be forgotten.  If you commit a serious crime, and do your time, you can claim that your debt to the state has been paid once you’re out of jail and all traces of your participation in the crime must be erased so that you can get on with your life.  If you’re a famous swimsuit model in Argentina and you decide that there are photos of you that you would not like other people to know about, you can insist that Google remove all links to those photos so no one can find them, at least in the Argentinian version of Google.

Is this really a power that Google ought to have?  What if you’re a politician running for high office and there are statements you have made in the past that you’re embarrassed about now?  Are there photos of you in compromising positions? (cough, cough, Paul Babeu, cough) 

What if you’re just Joe Average, and a friend posted a picture of you getting drunk on his Facebook page that you don’t want to be made public?  Should you be able to require that Facebook remove a photo your friend took with his camera and uploaded to his Facebook page?

This could become very, very ugly.  Will freedom of speech survive?

Stay tuned.

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