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Blockchain and the Right to be Forgotten

What has been said cannot be unsaid This is a fundamental truth

Beyond free-speech, the laws of physics necessitate it We cannot turn back the clock However, on the 25th of May, 2018, this may no longer be true The EU "General Data Protection Regulation", decrees that the "right to be forgotten" is "the right to erasure", such that anyone who made public their personal data can make others "erase links to, or copies or replications of" their data This means that, should anyone feel like it, they are permitted to wipe out the mistakes of their past

Nothing is sacred Data that exists, has existed or will exist on the internet in EU regions will be affected by this regulation On the surface, the "right to be forgotten" is thorough, with clear restrictions to the lawful processing of information such that identifying people is prohibited However, this does not apply if consent has been given, or where they are incapable of giving consent, et cetera, providing a choice selection of loopholes for even the least enterprising lawyer While the right to be forgotten may have been conceived with good intentions, it is legally and technically infeasible, explaining why it has been more explicitly "replaced" by the "right to erasure" in a manner that is already producible within the existing Data Protection Directive

But the right to erasure is infeasible too With the rise of blockchain and its capability to produce large-scale, secure distributed services it was evident that at some point blockchain would become part of the internet at large, and be more than just a ledger of economic transactions As a technology, blockchain is conceptually simple: you produce a series of records, "blocks" of transactions, that include a snapshot of the previous block, thus producing a sequence of blocks that are irreversibly linked to one another, a blockchain Once a block is attached to the chain, it is permanent Any attempt to modify the records stored within would be detected by all people currently on the chain, who will reject the alteration

If the internet moves towards such a system then nothing short of total internet failure can cripple it, which might only be caused by something on the scale of a solar flare This is the game changer If this happens to even a small degree, then the right to erasure becomes totally infeasible The only way to handle such a change would be rebuilding the entire blockchain from the modification, a hardfork, as has been seen with the Ethereum cryptocurrency But hardforks requires people to adopt the new blockchain, and commit to rebuilding it but it will be difficult to incentivise people to support frequent rebuilds

Thus we see fragmentation Some will see an older, unaltered internet, while the rest will see only the internet others wish them to see, suffering lengthy rebuild-periods for their lawfulness This has already been seen in Ethereum with Ethereum Classic So if the future is a world archived and enshrined forever in public knowledge, then "Be careful with your words Once they are said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten