Internet privacy and the "right to be forgotten"

Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:17am EDT
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By Eva Dou

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - When it comes to privacy, the Internet has long been something of a Wild West but that that is starting to change, with regulators in Europe and the United States beginning to pull in the reins.

On both sides of the Atlantic, officials are scrutinizing how companies such as Facebook and Google handle users' personal data, as they draw up plans to protect surfers while ensuring the growth of rapidly expanding social media, search engine and other Web-based businesses.

In the first sign of where Europe may be headed with its privacy regulations, the European Union announced this week that social networking sites and search engines could face court action if they fail to obey new EU data privacy rules.

Under proposals to be fleshed out in the coming months and that will update 16-year-old data-protection laws, the European Commission wants to force companies holding data to allow users to withdraw it from websites, calling it the "right to be forgotten."

Companies would also have to provide more information on what data they have collected from people and why.

"Any company operating in the EU market or any online product that is targeted at EU consumers must comply with EU rules," Viviane Reding, the European commissioner in charge of justice issues, said in a speech this week.

"To enforce EU law, national privacy watchdogs will be endowed with powers to investigate and engage in legal proceedings against non-EU data controllers," she added.

Reding said that EU-based privacy watchdogs should even be given powers to enforce compliance outside Europe, which could include access to U.S.-based servers and other data sources.   Continued...