Modern regulation like GDPR puts increasing stress on rights for privacy and even “absence” in cyberspace. While human rights and concepts of the individual are contested in the world, cyberspace seems to lean toward greater human rights in a uniform, global way. But who would enforce these protections?
Who are the legitimate policing forces in and for cyberspace? European political and legal tradition has relied much on an idea of the distinctive and sovereign identity of the individual, even in cyberspace.
Thus, modern data protection regulation aims to secure that too, in cyberspace, and now globally too. Protecting European values in cyberspace means also protecting those rights everywhere.
But giving individuals control of their data in cyberspace is more challenging than it might seem, particularly when immutability of the datasets says otherwise. Regulators demand that data be erased, yet immutability revoked that capability altogether. Which one wins? Popular solutions so far have involved techniques where blockchain is used to store only metadata, in other words only references to the data, which avoids the issue altogether.
If no actual data to be erased is stored on blockchain, only references, the need to erase disappears. While this seems to enable one to delete data by discarding and destroying the link between those references and the actual data, references which remain on the blockchain are thought to lose their significance as well.
And they in fact largely do. Even “anonymized” metadata like this will preserve information that can later be analyzed and even de-anonymized. Similar techniques have been used before and mechanisms developed to reconstruct and de-anonymize data that has been purposefully scrambled and its internal relations disassociated for such purposes.
Finally, and most importantly, even if this kind of structure could in practice enable the “right to be forgotten” in the blockchain, it would do that with heavy cost: defaulting back to legacy technologies.
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