Rights and Privileges and the EU

3 minute read

[background: This week the EU declared that an Internet business must “disappear” information about a person if they request it.  The ruling makes search engine and data-gathering/review services infeasible for businesses operating with a presence in the EU.]

People toss around the word “right” too casually. Narrowly constructed, a ‘right’ is only something that exists as a default state without outside interference. Imaging you’re on a desert island – you have the right to say what you want, think what you want, protect yourself from threats, hold on to your belongings, stay safe, etc. It’s when there’s a group of people who want to shut you up, take your stuff and lock you in a cage that we have to write this stuff down and call them “rights”. It gets worse if society believes that some men are justified in doing that stuff, so to settle the cognitive dissonance there requires a large structure.

But just as on that desert island there’s nobody to grow food or gather food for you, if somebody declares that you have a “right to food” then they’re selling you a line of goods (and watch your wallet) – what they really are saying is that they are going to grant you a privilege whereby they force somebody(ies) else to provide food to you. If there’s one group of people ordering another group of people to give things to other people, then it’s never a right, only a privilege. They may call it a ‘right’ to confuse you, but you don’t have to accept their newspeak.

Now then, when you do something in public/society, people notice. That creates information that just exists as objective truth – if somebody sees you walking around a park and writes down, “Tom walked across the park”, that is information about you, but you don’t own that information in any way. Now, maybe Tom was supposed to be at work, not walking across the park and he’d like for you to not have that information or tell anybody else about it. He could offer something to you to not tell anybody else about it, or even just ask you nicely, but you might find that gathering such information is more valuable to you than whatever Tom is offering, so you may or may not take Tom’s deal. But Tom might also get a group of his buddies to gang up and threaten you with some kind of harm if you tell anybody else about it. The gang has granted Tom a privilege of having that information about him ‘protected’ from disclosure.

So, this is what the EU has done – said that if you have information about somebody, and they don’t like that, then they can tell you to keep it to yourself, or the EU will beat you up (or some abstraction thereof). This is actually a pretty smart thing for the EU to do; governments thrive in low-information areas, imposing themselves to solve problems by dictate that could better be solved by all participants having access to more information. A company like Google has automated systems for gathering information and making it available to everybody, but to handle cases like this requires humans to discern what is going on, if the claims are legally valid, and then figuring out how to apply a heuristic to the data. This kind of EU ruling majorly affects Google’s cost structure, and to the extent that Google is becoming an abstract competitor to the EU by solving the information problem, the EU benefits from hurting Google in this way. Since the EU also makes Tom happy, they win in two ways, and Tom will feel more likely to reward the EU since they’ve offered him this privilege.

Most people are basically honest players and they have very little incentive to ever challenge the information that Google makes available about them. But people who do bad things – they’re going to take advantage of this ruling to try to cover their tracks (that a known pedophile is the first to use this law isn’t surprising). This is how the lowering of information will harm EU society to the largest degree – forget about Googling whether that roofer is honest or not – you’re only going to find positive results. Guess you’ll need to call a government regulator instead – Tom can’t get the gang to give up the information it has on Tom.