The Revisability Principle
Volume 66, Issue 4, 1113-1161
This Article has two purposes. The first is to explain the principle rooted in American law and culture that most strongly supports an American right to be forgotten—a deep constitutional commitment to what this Article calls the “revisability principle.” It is the principle that an individual’s identity should always remain, to some significant extent, revisable; that no person should be tied forever to her identity at a particular moment in the distant past, and that to the extent individuals must forever account for who they were long ago, their individual freedom to act and speak as they wish—both in the present and in the future—is powerfully constrained.
The second purpose of this Article is to explain how emerging technologies place unprecedented pressures on the revisability principle. Technologies and social practices that result in the permanent storage, ready access, and widespread dissemination of past mistakes or even prior identities that a person in the present hopes to leave behind impinge on the principle of revisability by making it more difficult to disassociate oneself from past choices that no longer reflect one’s self-conception. To the extent individuals must forever account for decisions in the distant past—people they, in some sense, no longer are—their freedom to speak, engage, and participate in democratic society and cultural creation is powerfully constrained.