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California Enacts Poor Man's Right to be Forgotten

On Monday, Galifornia's governor Jerry Brown signed a new law sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and approved almost universally by the state legislators. It gives minors, those under the age of eighteen, the right to remove posts they have made to sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The issue was summarized by James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, in a letter to governor Brown last week. "Three out of four teenagers have a profile on a social networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter. These sites offer many benefits for connecting, communicating, and learning, yet children and teens often self-reveal before they self-reflect and may post sensitive personal information about themselves -- and about others -- without realizing the consequences."

Governor Brown responded yesterday by signing the law that will force websites to offer minors the ability to remove their own posts via an online eraser button by 2015. It requires the service provider to make clear "how the [registered minor] may remove or, if the operator prefers, request and obtain the removal of content or information posted on the operator’s Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application."

It will, however, only relate to personally posted data and not posts in which minors are mentioned by other users. Furthermore, while the law will require the removal of those posts from display, it will not require that the data be removed from the service providers' servers.

Nor is it without critics. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) claimed in June that the bill "is unconstitutionally vague, will limit minors' access to constitutionally protected material, and violates the commerce clause of the constitution." More particularly, it warned, "Sites that have an audience 'primarily comprised of minors' could include many general-audience sites or sites that aim to appeal to young adults. When faced with obligations to treat minors’ content differently or to restrict certain marketing or advertising material to minors, many operators unsure of their status under this bill will opt to bar minors from their sites and services altogether."

But Darrell Steinberg is, needless to say, delighted. In a statement issued yesterday, he said, “This is a groundbreaking protection for our kids... They deserve the right to remove this material that could haunt them for years to come. At the same time," he added, "this bill will help keep minors from being bombarded with advertisements for harmful products that are illegal for them to use, like alcohol, tobacco and guns.”