Britain clashes with EU over 'right to be forgotten' opt-out

By Danny Palmer
05 Apr 2013 View Comments
European commissioner for justice fundamental rights and citizenship Viviane Reding

The British government has clashed with the European Union over an initiative surrounding the "right to be forgotten" online, arguing Britain should be able to opt out of the upcoming laws.

The policy, part of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, would require large internet organisations such as Facebook to delete users personal details upon request. Its aim is essentially to put control of personal data, predominately on social media, back in the hands of individuals, rather than organisations.

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It comes as individuals are increasingly concerned about their online reputation, especially when data is inaccurate or malicious but can't be removed.

Advocates of the General Data Protection Regulation argue it'll be good for individual's privacy rights and will save billions of euros. However, the UK government claims the "right to be forgotten" label will lead to unrealistic expectations about the way data is used.

The legislation has not yet been finalised, but as it stands organisations that fail to comply with a request to delete personal data could be fined up to two per cent of their annual global turnover.

"This piece of legislation is one of the biggest market-openers of the last few years. It eliminates 27 conflicting rules [one for each EU state] and replaces them with ... a mechanism for the whole continent. This means saving €2.3bn (£1.9bn) a year," Viviane Reding (pictured), vice-president of the European Commission told The Guardian.

"[But] the British government have asked us not to do this and [would prefer] two laws: one for Britain and one for other people, meaning there would be separate layers of complication.

"I have exchanged letters with [UK justice secretary] Chris Grayling on this, which is rather like Kafka. Britain is meant to oppose red tape; here Britain wants a supplementary layer of red tape. It's crazy. The UK wants 27 rules - one for each country."

The Ministry of Justice has released a statement, confirming its opposition to the proposed General Data Protection Regulation.

"The UK does not support the right to be forgotten as proposed by the European Commission. The title raises unrealistic and unfair expectations of the proposals," said a spokesperson. 

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