There is no statute of limitations on the Internet.
“Perfect remembering” refers to the capacity of data be stored, cheaply and easily, virtually forever. Every transaction we make, every Internet site we visit, every Google search, every Facebook entry, every email, every purchase, trip, or phone call can now be stored forever. Beyond the data collected and stored automatically by the Internet and electronic cash registers, most Americans’ comings and goings are recorded on traffic cameras, building lobby and hallway cameras, and street security cameras. As the quality of these recordings goes up, as facial recognition software advances, as more and more of this video data is stored and analyzed, our privacy erodes and our digital lives take on a form of eternal life.
Beyond the loss of privacy, a real danger of self-censorship emerges as we become hyper-cautious about how data can be used against us in the distant future, especially if it is taken out of context as frequently occurs now.
Robust debate and open dialogue is vital to a democracy.
Selective forgetting is actually a boon, allowing us to “generalize and abstract… to evolve, to grow and to change over time… forgetting also facilitates forgiving—individually and as a society.”
As we become more and more used to digital memory over human recollection, we become dependent upon digital memory, the validity, security, and authenticity of which is unproven and perhaps essentially unable to be proven. “Whoever in the future will control large swaths of our digital memory (Google? YouTube?) will be able to change history.” After all, who are you going to believe? Me or your lying database?
Privacy, the ability to control information about oneself and one’s life, is rapidly emerging as one of the most fundamental liberties. One thing I’ve learned about information is that if it is collected and retained, sooner or later it will be used and eventually abused. Information is a form of power. And all power, unchecked, ultimately corrupts.
“In the past year, curious Massachusetts police officers did background checks on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 968 times.” — Playboy magazine, May 2010
NOTE: Inspiration and quotes in this posting come from “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age,” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, Associate Professor, University of Singapore, and keynote speaker at the April 2010 Global Privacy Summit.