• May 29, 2014

HeartsIf, hypothetically, I had ever done something in my youth that I now regret, we’re cool because my years of living dangerously (hypothetically) would have been pre-internet. Any (hypothetical) shenanigans would long ago have been buried under the massive sediment of unrecorded, unphotographed, untweeted, unblogged, obscurity.

But we are in a new world of ubiquitous and eternal data collection and disclosure, of course.

Rest assured that one or more of the clowns in the photo accompanying this post will enjoy explaining the picture to his grandchildren some day (or maybe to his grandmother or potential employer yesterday?). (Google found about 26,000 items about me in less than 0.5 seconds just now (but no picture of my butt, I think.))

Hah hah. But there is a much more serious side to our new memory-enhanced world. Negative information about people persists for the foreseeable future. The taint of youthful misconduct could pose threats to our kids’ job prospects, interpersonal relationships, and well-being for the rest of their lives.

Fredrikson & Byron associate, Chelsea Brennan DesAutels, authored a recent “FredAlert” about Minnesota’s amendments to its expungement statute, which many have thought makes sealing old records too difficult.

I agree. I have had the pleasure and honor of helping out at the Minneapolis Urban League Cardozo Society Walk-In Clinic for some years now and I have heard far too many stories of hard-working job-seekers whose prospects are crippled by very old criminal records. In a challenging employment environment, one negative data-point is all it takes to eliminate an applicant. Judges have been unable to wipe slates clean under the older statute even if when there was overwhelming agreement that any usefulness in keeping an old record public was minimal-to-nonexistent and the reputational and social harm to Minnesota citizens was extreme and severe.

When does old information become misinformation and why can’t we all be trusted to decide that for ourselves case-by-case (as opposed to having a “right to be forgotten”)? These are subtle and complex questions. Nevertheless, I think we can and should celebrate this slight change in our laws to help us navigate our new possibly too transparent and too permanent data environment.

 

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