EU calls for 'right to be forgotten' on internet
THE European Commission has proposed a legal "right to be forgotten" allowing internet users to ensure that shameful pictures or other embarrassing online content is deleted from Facebook or other social networking websites.
EU data protection rules are to be updated to take into account the growing popularity of networking sites, where people share photographs or personal details that can come back to haunt them in later life or if they become widely distributed on the internet.
There are growing fears about the negative influence of social networking sites on people's careers, social and private lives after widely available personal information has led to failed job interviews, divorces and public disgrace.
Europe's rights commissioner Viviane Reding said the world of data protection had been transformed by popular new technologies in the 15 years since data protection legislation was last amended.
"Internet users must have effective control of what they put online and be able to correct, withdraw or delete it at will," she said.
"What happens if you want to permanently delete your profile on a social networking site? Can this be done easily? The right to be forgotten is essential in today's digital world."
Mrs Reding is concerned that it can be very difficult to remove personal information and that internet users are not properly informed about how private material will be used or stored by website service providers or search engines.
"They need to know what their rights are if they want to access, rectify or delete their data. People should be able to exercise these rights without constraints," said a commission official.
Earlier this week, Facebook was forced to give assurances to US authorities that it had taken steps to prevent the sharing of personal information about users. The proposals will also have implications for Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and other companies that collect information about people's online habits, which they can then use to attract advertising.
The commission will require new legislation "clarifying and strengthening the rules on consent" to allow web users to stop anyone from gathering information about them without having to make complicated adjustments to their internet browsers.
This week, Britain's information commissioner ruled that Google broke data protection laws by 'harvesting' emails, internet addresses, and passwords while collecting images for its Street View service.
The company is also at the centre of a privacy storm in Italy, France, Germany and Spain after it admitted that its Street View cars had accidentally collected information sent over unencrypted wireless internet networks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)