Peter Funt Peter Funt, 10/15/2014 [Archive]

Thoughts About Whatchamacallit

By Peter Funt

I can't begin to remember how long I've been fantasizing about a law like the one in Europe that now protects a person's Right to Forget.

As best I can recall, the European Court of Justice affirmed this remarkable legal principle last spring after a guy in Spain brought suit against Google, seeking to have certain "personal information" removed from Google's search engines. To everyone's surprise, if memory serves, the court ruled against Google and said forgetfulness must be viewed through the lens of law, and not as a byproduct of wishful thinking or the haze of old age.

Google says it now gets an average of 1,000 requests per day from people in the 28 European nations covered by the ruling who want damning information expunged from the Internet. It's like taking a legal mulligan on life.

So far, the folks most eager to have details of their past forgotten tend to be the rich and frequently-Googled, like Greg Lindae, a Netherlands-based private-equity investor who demanded his name be removed from a 16-year-old Wall Street Journal article that carried the headline, "Ancient Hindu Sex Practice Gets a New-Age Makeover." Mr. Lindae doesn't dispute that he attended the sex workshop mentioned in the story, he just doesn't like being reminded of it.

(I hope you are able to read the preceding paragraph before Mr. Lindae succeeds in having it deleted.)

Legal scholars in the future will undoubtedly look back on this law, assuming they don't forget its details, as a turning point for mankind.

Imagine, for example, how different our lives will be when statements such as, "I forgot to trim the hedges," "I forgot to buy milk," and "I forgot to pick up your mother at the train," are backed by the full force of law.

I expect the courts in Europe to soon ratify a Right to Photoshop law. Bad hair day in the office photo? Fixed. Ex-spouse standing with your kids at the Grand Canyon? Gone.

Now, where was I?

Before long we'll vaguely remember Bernie Madoff as a noted philanthropist, John Edwards as simply a great family man, and O.J. Simpson as a mediocre movie actor.

Based on the Right to Forget, NBC probably had a raft of hit shows, gas never cost less than three dollars, and the Yankees just finished a winning season.

The new law should result in a hiring boon for senior citizens. Firms such as Google and Yahoo will be eager to employ folks with the skill to compile sensitive news items for search engines and then quickly forget them. Pharmaceutical companies will be forced to abandon research into memory-enhancing potions and focus instead on wonder drugs to foster forgetfulness.

None will benefit more from the Right to Forget than politicians for whom, "Let's look at the record" will no longer be problematic when most of it is redacted. Writers, too, should rejoice when readers reach the end of a column and can't seem to recall why they intended to email a litany complaints.

But if courts in Europe really want to pursue a fantasy of painting over the past they'll have to Google George Santayana and delete what he forecast over a century ago: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."


Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at and © 2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author

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