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European Regulators Weigh “Right to Be Forgotten” Internet Law

While in America the battle for online privacy rights continues to be waged, European leaders are considering going forward with a sweeping law that would essentially make it illegal for any Internet company to use personal data without explicit permission from the individual, and make the retention of such information after a deletion request to be punishable with costly fines. For sites such as Facebook, this is serious stuff. Most Internet companies currently live off the free exchange of such data, and newly imposed regulations could have immediate and long-lasting impacts on their business models.

However, even if such a law were passed by the European Commission, it's implementation would prove a challenge and its enforcement nearly impossible.

This is because of the simple fact that, despite the European Union acting as a uniting form of government, the multitude of member states still follow their own rules and regulations for the most part. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the World Wide Web. Internet laws are seemingly so culturally distinct and complicated in creation that applying them across multiple countries isn't easy. Italy's piracy problem, for example, may call for something similar to SOPA, but France's ideals regarding the freedom of information would dampen any such law from ever taking shape across the whole of the continent.

But in addition to problems stemming from the inherent nature of the European Union, further international debacles are likely to keep such a law from being enforced. This is because the majority of companies in question that would most likely be fined – Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc. – are all American owned and operated. The European Union can fine violators of their new Internet privacy laws all they want, but chances are that Facebook and friends wouldn't be immediately writing the checks.

Such practical pessimism isn't deterring proponents from lauding the most appreciatory aspect of the potential law – the so-called “right to be forgotten.” This specific privacy statute would make it so that all Europeans have a right to request that their data on sites they no longer affiliate themselves with be removed permanently. Such a measure would ease concerns regarding the mysterious fate of online personal data we no longer monitor.

But opponents argue that such measures are far harder to implement than European regulators would have you believe. All it takes is for one instance of content sharing and any instance of violated shared hosting for such information to no longer be strictly in the hands of a particular company. How any particular institution could be responsible for the permanent deletion of certain information is something proponents have not specified, those speaking out against the law have proclaimed.

As European regulators inch closer to establishing such a series of new Internet privacy laws, experts and analysts continue to debate as to the likelihood of such a law having any real impact on the realm of personal data rights on the World Wide Web.