Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

European-wide regulations to provide for the erasure of personal details stored online will not provide an absolute right to be forgotten.  This was the clear warning of speakers at a conference on policy priorities for social media.

Facebook’s European director of policy Richard Allan told the Westminster eForum (10.7.2013) that although Facebook users had the right to delete their own profile it was not possible to erase all associated material held about an individual by other data controllers.

Lawyers representing social media companies urged the European Union to be much clearer in how it was proposing to enforce “a right to be forgotten”. 

Hazel Grant, a commercial lawyer and partner in Bristows, said the European proposal for a right of erasure of data when consent was withdrawn could not provide an absolute right to be forgotten.  The data controller concerned would have an obligation to inform third parties and ask them to erase data unless the cost was disproportionate but there was no guarantee that could be done.

“If the European Union wants to introduce a right to be forgotten it needs to be much clearer...It cannot be delivered entirely because a complete right to be forgotten would destroy history...Business needs to know how this will work”.

WikiLeaks’ practice of releasing leaked American military and diplomatic data exclusively through selected media partners was roundly criticised at the annual conference of investigative journalists held by the Norwegian SKUP foundation. 

Any journalist who in the past might have experienced a buzz on receiving a leaked document sent through the post in a plain envelope can only marvel at the prospect of having access to the vast treasure trove of confidential information made available by the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks.  A leaker of yesteryear could hardly have assembled, let alone handed over, the great mass of documents which can now be compressed into a single compact disc and then disseminated online. 

Access by journalists to the Facebook profiles of people who have died and the republication of Tweets which were exchanged between friends are two of the issues currently being considered by the Press Complaints Commission.Facebook allows subscribers to delete content pages and even remove their whole account but the company has yet to decide what policy should be adopted over access to profiles on the death of a subscriber.

Having been a journalist for fifty years, I am in no doubt about my own position. I support and applaud principled individuals who are prepared to leak information which they believe should be in the public domain.  They invariably put their own jobs on the line and often face the threat of a criminal prosecution.  Yes, many in public life might think such principled leakers are misguided; that they are deliberately breaching their conditions of work; and letting their down their own colleagues, their employers and perhaps the state.  But although leakers have my support, I think journalists do have responsibilities when deciding whether to print or broadcast information and data which has obviously been gained by illicit means.  I have spent my career working within codes of practice and guidelines which were designed to ensure that I was accountable for what I wrote and said.  And that is my worry about WikiLeaks. Thanks to the revolution in information technology, it has become a publishing house for leaking on an industrial scale.  But it lacks the checks and balances under which most journalists have always had to operate.