The “right to be forgotten debate”, and paper archives

When I rifle through a personal archive collection, I often wonder if the creator intended these fragments of themselves to be cast out for the general public, if not the world, to see. The <a href=”http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27396981″>”right to be forgotten”</a> debate has reawakened this train of thought.

The people cited in reference to this EU court ruling are appealing for unfortunate, or unsavoury aspects of their past to be forgotten. For me the debate becomes more philosophical, especially when I relate it to my job (archivist, working mainly with paper based documents), and the moral justification of why we do what we do, and how that places an individual, even if they are dead.

Many personal archives are the result of a meticulous individual, who may have carefully selected what they retain, in order to create a particular image of themself. Some appear more organic.

When I rifle through a personal archive collection, I often wonder if the creator intended these fragments of themselves to be cast out for the general public, if not the world, to see. The “right to be forgotten” debate has reawakened this train of thought.

The people cited in reference to this EU court ruling are appealing for unfortunate, or unsavoury aspects of their past to be forgotten. For me the debate becomes more philosophical, especially when I relate it to my job (archivist, working mainly with paper based documents), and the moral justification of why we do what we do, and how that places an individual, even if they are dead.

Many personal archives are the result of a meticulous individual, who may have carefully selected what they retain, in order to create a particular image of themself. Some appear more organic.

A few years ago I catalogued a collection of diaries. the diaries had been donated to the archive by a friend of the creator, some time after her death. This was a set of very personal, in-depth journals. I often felt I was snooping, spying into a private world. Even more so when I realised that some of it appeared to be written in a kind of code. So within a personal diary, the writer felt the need to make the private even more private, presumably in case someone read it. I was reading it, and making a catalogue entry that billions of people round the world would be able to access. And the person who wrote it, quite possibly never meant for this to happen. Perhaps some people intend not to leave a trace on this earth.

The idea of “deleting” oneself reminds me of the character Wilson Wilson in the 2013 Channel 4 tv series Utopia. “I’m invisible” says Wilson, who has used international laws, data protection acts and internet know-how to remove all trace of himself from the world. A comical, exaggerated character, but one I identify with every time I have to sign up to another account online, and leave another trace which may not necessarily represent what I wish of myself in the future…

 

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