On one of the progressive tech lists I follow, a question was asked about what open-source (read: Free, as in beer) software was available for DRM (because “real” DRM software is expensive, never mind that it doesn’t actually work anyway). Not for copyright enforcement though.. but to create a digital time-bomb feature for files that one might want to not exist in the public after a certain point in time. This is what is known in the EU as “the right to delete” and some wonder why this hasn’t received much press here in the US.
I am glad to see less hype in the US media about this – what a disaster it would be if the MPAA and RIAA were advocating this “right to delete” concept! I can just see the cease and desists now: “You must delete and forget that this work, by our artist, which we own, was ever created, or else!” Just imagine all the sheep signing on to give up their right to free speech and fair use.
The “right to delete” started from good intentions, and it is based on a legal precedent of the “right to forget” in some countries. Who hasn’t posted a comment in haste and then quickly deleted it after seeing an error or having second thoughts? Clearly, and quite correctly, the right to be fairly disassociated from a crime after rehabilitation, exoneration, or acquittal is important for individual freedom, but this passion for having the ability to obliterate one’s public online history is short-sighted.
The fact is that laws are already in place to address criminal past issues, and “the right to delete” is effectively dealt with by data privacy policies already. If you don’t trust your data storage provider to actually delete your data when they say they will, don’t put it there in the first place. I’m not a fan of capitalism, but this is one place where the market will support the demand if it’s there. Not only that, think of the chaos and confusion you cause when you post a comment, then someone responds to it, then you delete your comment. Yes, I know when you do that. You can’t make me forget your crazy rants after I’ve read them.
The obvious eventual outcome – probably sooner than later – is that it will turn into another copyright troll legal situation where for whatever legitimate reason someone’s data isn’t deleted (missed… forgotten… mistaken) and then turns up and all hell breaks loose… It is simply impossible and unreasonable to expect people to keep their hands off the data in their own computers, and to give up the right to use data that they have legitimately acquired as they see fit. Any legal framework that places controls on data is misguided and dangerous.
As for the original case of self-destructing data and unauthorized eyes, that seems to be solved quite simply with encryption and revocable keys. After detecting a few attempts to crack it, have it shred itself. It doesn’t do anything to prevent user error, but at least we’re not pushing “raised-bar” lazy security-theater-style solutions.
Far better to expend efforts in developing user-owned and operated hardware over which the user has clear and unambiguous dominion, with convenient and strong encryption tools that enable the use of networks and remote services, securely and even anonymously, rather than turn to complex laws and authoritarian enforcement as a mechanism for compelling other people to give us the privacy we think we’re entitled to.
PS: I was tempted to post this in response to the list, but then thought, why give it more attention myself? Don’t I really just want this silly idea to die a lonely death? And then I remembered: what better way to express my thoughts and ensure that they won’t be read, than to post it on my own server and blog!