James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

A rising furor about the Web's refusal to forget

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: May 20, 2014 - 10:42 AM
The files never forget

The files never forget

Last week a man contacted the Star Tribune to request that his name be removed from a three-year-old story. Even though he lived overseas, he said, the story was making it hard for him to get a job. I'm not going to give his name, because I see no need to compound his current predicament.

The story reported that this man ran a business that got in serious trouble for the way it treated its customers. He has since settled litigation and reimbursed a number of those customers, and has now apparently changed his line of work and wants a new start.

I am someone who believes in redemption and rehabilitation. I also think future employers and customers should be able to find out when someone has gotten in such hot water that it became newsworthy. Right now, the political winds seem to be blowing in the direction of erasing or obscuring the record for the sake of second chances.

Last week, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Google must remove certain information from its search results because individuals have a "right to be forgotten." According to the Associated Press, the case originated with a Spanish man unhappy that a 1998 legal notice about an unpaid welfare debt was showing up in Google searches. The decision has sparked quite a global fury, including alarm that it will restrict freedom of expression and obliterate history

Also last week. Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law on expunging criminal records to ensure that they are truly deleted from the record. One woman trying to get beyond a years-old drug possession charge described it as a "perpetual punishment." It's hard to argue with the law's provision easing the expungement of juvenile delinquency determinations, as well as those involving acquittals, deferred sentences and minor charges. The law also requires private background screening companies to delete expunged records from their files, although enforcing that won't be easy.

I know this is an essential part of expungement, but there probably aren't many areas of the law that make it legal to lie: "The person shall not be guilty of perjury or otherwise of giving a false statement if the person fails to acknowledge the arrest, indictment, information, or trial in response to any inquiry made for any purpose."

As for the man who contacted us, we're leaving his name in the story. I know that's what his former customers would want.

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