A new ‘right to be forgotten’?

What’s the story? 

The British Government are proposing tough new data protection rules which mean people could ask for their personal data and items that they posted online when they were younger to be deleted. The media have termed the proposed new law ‘the right to be forgotten.’

What’s happening?

Barack Obama famously said that the Internet never forgets – and many of us have experienced the ignominy of discovering that an old schoolmate has posted a photograph of us at our worst which we’re powerless to delete. Yet under new proposals announced by Digital Minister Matt Hancock, this could all be about to change.

The new Data Protection Bill, which is currently being drafted, “will give us one of the robust, yet dynamic, sets of data laws in the world,” Mr Hancock said in a statement. “It will give people more control over their data, require more consent for its use, and prepare Britain for Brexit,” he added.

If it becomes law, the Bill will give greater powers to the Information Commissioner, the UK’s data protection watchdog, and will mean that firms which break the law in this area will be subject to much more sizeable fines.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the proposal is the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’, which will allow anyone to request that their personal data be deleted, with the definition of that phrase being widened to include IP addresses, DNA and browsing ‘cookies.’ The latter means that companies will have to delete – on request ­– details of user’s Internet browsing histories.

At present the maximum fine that can be levied on a company which seriously contravenes data protection laws is £500,000. Under the proposals, that will rise to £17m, or 4% of global turnover (which in the case of firms such as Google could rise to billions). With such a huge increase in the potential penalties, firms will have no choice but to fall in line, even though companies such as Facebook base their business model on their ability to leverage and sell the personal data of their users.

What have others been saying?

The Guardian – pioneers in data leaks and protection coverage – have an entire ‘right to be forgotten’ section on their site, including this fascinating open letter from 80 academics to Google about the way that they process requests of this nature.



There might be plenty of things in our past that we’d love to cover up or have forgotten, but the Bible suggests that in the cosmic sense, that right does not exist. In Luke 12: 2-3, Jesus says “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” And in Jeremiah 23 v 24, God asks: “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?... Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God sees and knows everything that we’ve done – even the worst parts that we’d rather no-one knew about – and yet he still chooses to forgive, cleanse and redeem us!


What happens when we confess our sins? In 1 John 1 v 9, the author doesn’t stop at forgiveness – he moves on to tell us that Jesus will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Perhaps we sometimes overlook this part of Christ’s redeeming work: we’re not only forgiven for what we’ve done, but the stain is also removed. The Psalmist describes that aspiration in Psalm 51 when he asks God to “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. And cleanse me from my sin (v2, with more in v7 and 10).” We don’t just naturally desire forgiveness, but also cleanliness. This contrasts with a more worldly perspective on sin: that we’d like to be able to get away with our behaviour, and then have it forgotten so that no-one ever finds out about it.

Points for prayer

  • Pray for a just law, which prevents the abuse of personal data.
  • Pray for those around us who are weighed down by a burden from their past – that they’d be able to discover healing.
  • Pray for those in our community who would like to have their mistakes forgotten: that instead they’d recognise the power of the forgiveness and cleansing that Jesus offers.


Author Bio

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Martin Saunders

Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.