Gender Identity and Privacy: Could a Right to Be Forgotten Help
Andrew Agnes Online?
18 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2013 Last revised: 29 Mar 2014
Date Written: September 5, 2013
The ‘right to be forgotten’ (R2BF) aims at helping individuals to control the availability of (outdated, incorrect, or embarrassing) personal information roaming around the Internet. Such informational control is important for privacy and identity-building. Identity-building takes place in social interactions between individuals and people base the social identity they assign to an individual on the information they have. Sometimes individuals need a clean slate to realise certain identity-changes. Ideally, therefore, the R2BF should assist people by preventing past personal information from affecting the present.
Identity-change is very fundamental for people who want to change the gender that was legally and/or socially assigned to them at birth. Being categorised as male or female has a huge impact on their ability to construct their identity. If at some point, they have a gender identity that differs from the gender assigned to them at birth, they can have a need not to be confronted with this past, in order to build their current social identity. This raises the question whether and how the R2BF can help people to control data on the Web that include outdated gender references. Can the R2BF cover such a fundamental thing as having their gender that was assigned at birth forgotten?
After briefly analysing the role of information in identity construction, the characteristics of the Web, and the possibilities for people to request erasure of past gender-related information, the paper concludes that the R2BF cannot control the extensive data flows relating to the core characteristics of a person’s identity. The R2BF may be suited for having single actions, utterances, or events forgotten, but it will hardly help to have core identity-related characteristics, such as gender, religion, or race ‘forgotten’. Achieving a significant identity change is not served by a R2BF when the change relates to the most fundamental aspects of one’s identity, such as gender.
Keywords: Right to be Forgotten, Internet, Identity, Privacy
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