Right to be forgotten: What would it mean for Anne Frank?

avatar  Niko Härting

Anne Frank, a household name for many people in Germany and the Netherlands: A Jewish teenager who died in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in 1945. After her death, she became famous when her diaries were found and published in 1947 (see „Anne Frank“ in Wikipedia).

European Commission’s Approach to
„Processing for historical, statistical and scientific research purposes“

Were the European Commission’s ideas of a new European data protection regime ever to become reality, the „Anne Franks“ of the 21st century would forever be doomed to anonymity. Although it is more than obvious that the proposed „right to forget“/“right to be forgotten“ poses a fundamental threat to historical scholarship, history (and science) takes a back seat in the Commission’s proposals. History is reduced to „provisions relating to specific data processing situations“ (headline of „Chapter IX“), and Art. 83 of proposed General Data Protection Regulation, COM (2012) 11, 25 January 2012, p. 96, reads as follows:

„1. Within the limits of this Regulation, personal data may be processed for historical, statistical or scientific research purposes only if:

(a) these purposes cannot be otherwise fulfilled by processing data which does not permit or not any longer permit the identification of the data subject;

(b) data enabling the attribution of information to an identified or identifiable data subject is kept separately from the other information as long as these purposes can be fulfilled in this manner.

2. Bodies conducting historical, statistical or scientific research may publish or otherwise publicly disclose personal data only if:

(a) the data subject has given consent, subject to the conditions laid down in Article 7;

(b) the publication of personal data is necessary to present research findings or to facilitate research insofar as the interests or the fundamental rights or freedoms of the data subject do not override these interests; or

(c) the data subject has made the data public.“

What does this mean?

  • State Control: In the future, it will be up to data protection authorities (DPAs) to decide whether historical documents must be anomyzed. This alone is outrageous. State authorities are to be given extensive control over historical scholarship.
  • Anonymity is to be the rule and not the exception. Should there ever be a new „Martin Luther“ or a new „Johannes Gutenberg“, the question will be whether books on such individuals can be written without „identification“ [see 1.(a) above]; and chances will always be that they can.

Time to Wake Up: Follow the French Example and Invitation

Art. 83 of the proposed General Data Protection Regulation is a perfect example of the bureaucratic one-sidedness of the Commission’s plans. In its proposals for data protection, the Commission feels fit and competent to regulate communication full-scale. At the same time, there is a deplorable lack of understanding of the great variety of cultural issues that communication touches. It is time to wake up.

In a remarkable wake-up call, French archivists are collecting signatures against the exaggerations and dire consequences of a rigid „right to forget“. They are reminding the European public that memory is not a nuisance that needs to be regulated away. Memory is an achievement of civilisation (see in German Härting, „Was macht Dein Radiergummi in meinem Kopf? – Vom Unsinn des Vergessenwerdens“, CRonline Blog v. 6.12.2012). And, therefore, it is not just for Anne Frank’s sake that the archivists‘ online petition deserves our signatures:

„The European Parliament: Adjoun the adoption of the regulation about personal data“ Petition at by Association des archivistes français



Mehr zum Autor: RA Prof. Niko Härting ist namensgebender Partner von HÄRTING Rechtsanwälte, Berlin. Er ist Mitglied der Schriftleitung Computer und Recht (CR) und ständiger Mitarbeiter vom IT-Rechtsberater (ITRB) und vom IP-Rechtsberater (IPRB). Er hat das Standardwerk zum Internetrecht, 6. Aufl. 2017, verfasst und betreut den Webdesign-Vertrag in Redeker (Hrsg.), Handbuch der IT-Verträge (Loseblatt). Zuletzt erschienen: "Datenschutz-Grundverordnung".

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