The Right to Be Forgotten: Seventy-One

“It’s about five minutes to my sit-down with the Senator. Do we have any almost coherent language to give him?” Birch throws his stack of papers on the table and rakes his fingers through his hair.

We fall silent.

“Perfect.” Birch kicks the trashcan on the way out of the room.

“Come on,” I say. “We’ve got to at least try. Could we maybe carve a niche for nonviolent history?”

“And pair it with a time constraint,” Nan adds. “We’ve been all over those angles. We just don’t have precedence for hiding governmental information from the police. Or the public for that matter.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Kevin says. We both stop to stare at him. “Confidentiality is a hallmark of parts of our governmental and legal constructs.” He pauses for a long moment.

“We’re listening,” I say.

“Oh,” he says, seemingly startled. “There’s Top Secret for sensitive matters of state and confidentiality of minors in public records.”

“So we stitch it together like we did for the bill as it was introduced,” Nan says.

Now it’s my turn to play devil’s advocate: “But individual criminal records are hardly sensitive matters of state. And minors are a different issue altogether.”

“Look it,” Nan says. “Even sensitive matters of state have a shelf life. Not all Top Secret materials stay that way forever. Once the sensitivity recedes, then the secrecy also recedes.”

“Like the sensitivity of criminal histories,” I say, finally wrapping my brain around the notion. “They are really sensitive for a while, but instead of secreting them we make them widely known. Then when a time frame of sensitivity has passed, we can reverse and take them out of the public eye.”

“That might work for, like, outcomes, the stuff police would see on the screen at a stop. But lawyers are still going to need to read those cases. As long as the cases are there, media and others can connect people after the fact,” Kevin says.

“Isn’t that a different issue? Don’t we just want to make sure that police don’t act on super old information at the stop?” Nan’s brow furrows. The knot stiffens. It feels like we’re so close but we can’t get there.

“Why don’t we want to deal with both issues?” Kevin says.

“Both issues,” I repeat, letting the words warm in my mouth. “The introduced bill deals with information shared virally. It’s not that much of a stretch to apply it to public governmental information, too. If the sensitivity date has passed then a person can request their case be hidden in the databases?”

Kevin laughs. “Not remotely. The cases have to stay there.”

“But the names don’t. After the sensitivity date passes, the names don’t serve a purpose anymore. They could be redacted. That way, the cases remain but the names don’t.” Nan begins writing furiously.

“Who’s paying for that? It sounds expensive.” I also write as dig deeper into this solution.

Kevin leans back, heels of his hands pressed to his temples. “Yeah, the right and maybe the left aren’t paying to have names redacted for criminals. If they don’t see it as directly benefitting society’s moral majority, it’ll play like giving an advantage to the people who made mistakes while the ones who didn’t get nothing.”

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