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Internet amnesia

June 22, 2010

Germany’s interior minister has called for a "digital eraser" to automatically remove data from the Internet. A government working paper proposes that people should have greater control over what is published about them.

A computer keyboard with a lock on it
A digital eraser would help the Internet to "forget" informationImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is backing the introduction of a "digital eraser" that would see data on the Internet automatically disappear after a certain period of time to protect people's privacy. He said individuals should be able to tag data such as photos and videos with a "remove by date" that would automatically erase information. Search engines could be ordered not to publish information that was tagged as "to be forgotten."

The "digital eraser" is one of 14 measures outlined in the government working paper "Perspectives: Germany Internet policy" presented by de Maiziere in Berlin on Tuesday.

The paper also recommends that individuals have the right to legally challenge those who publish wrong or misleading information. This includes the right to apologies or corrections, similar to those newspapers and other media must publish when they make erroneous or defamatory statements. He said a technology should be developed that would allow apologies to be placed at the top of search engines' hit lists. The paper also recommends that courts should also be able to award higher compensation to victims.

De Maziere said the onus was on providers to ensure that such information was kept safe and confidential.

People should also act responsibly

Google logo
Search engines may have to automatically delete "tagged" informationImage: AP

De Maiziere said people should actively take steps to protect their privacy. He said “cloud computing” posed a considerable danger. He warned people against having personal information and data stored on external servers without knowing who had access to them.

People should also make sure however, that viruses, hackers and Trojans could not easily take over their computers. De Maziere warned people to ensure that their virus programs were kept up to date. The German Federal Court recently ruled that people should take appropriate steps to do so. A recent study showed that 20 percent of German Internet users did not use virus protection programs.

De Maiziere said the government did not want to pass a battery of new laws. But he said he was prepared to see Internet providers made responsible for ensuring that the user protection in the systems kept up with technological advances in the Internet industry.

The paper is also considering introducing EU-wide rules covering dubious Internet online stores, for example, those selling medications, online-based credit companies. The Bundestag will debate the paper in autumn.

Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt (dpa/AP)
Editor: Michael Lawton