IOWA LEGISLATURE

Bill gives Iowans chance to 'forget' bad tweets

Carson King's case inspires state senator to introduce 'right to be forgotten' law

Carson King waves to kids in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital after the first quarter of a Hawkey
Carson King waves to kids in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital after the first quarter of a Hawkeye football game Sept. 28 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. King’s case of social-media highs and lows prompted Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona, to file a “right to be forgotten act” in the Iowa Legislature. “It provides Iowans an increased level of privacy online,” Nunn said. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Carson Kings of the world, take note.

A state senator wants to spare Iowans the agony of search engines digging up past indiscretions they would rather forget, or at least keep hidden from public view.

Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona, and his “right to be forgotten act” seek to authorize Iowans to request that certain content be removed from the internet.

Senate File 2236 is designed to protect Iowans who post information online “and half a decade later decide to go back and clean up their social media space before they apply for a job or move into a new opportunity in life,” Nunn said.

He noted it also could be used to fend off “revenge porno” situations or other social media improprieties.

“The challenge is that we basically have search engines out there that are basically incentivized to cull this information from the internet because they can sell advertising space for it,” he said. “So it’s a law that looks at what’s our digital right to privacy in the same way that we have in the physical world while not forgetting the fact that when you put information out there you have a responsibility to go back and update it if you want to be clear on it.”

Nunn said the proposal is designed to aid people like King, who was propelled to fame last September but now speaks to teens about social media’s power, both good and bad.

King’s sign seeking beer money in the throng of Iowa State football fans who showed up for an ESPN GameDay telecast caused his profile to skyrocket — and with it the number of donations he inspired for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. But he encountered pitfalls, particularly related to the social-media platform that propelled his rise.

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When “offensive and hurtful” tweets he made at age 16 — nearly eight years ago — emerged, he held a news conference and apologized. He noted he had been quoting the Comedy Central show “Tosh. O” and was “embarrassed and stunned” upon reflection.

Nunn said the incident would not have occurred had there been a “statute of limitations” of sorts for “small-level items” to prevent internet search engines from disclosing social-media posts that an individual seeks to purge from services such as Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook.

SF 2236 defines “content of minimal value” to mean information that is inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate, or excessive, which “after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in light of the demonstrable harm the information is causing or may cause to an individual’s professional, financial, reputational, or other interest.”

The definition does not include information related to criminal convictions, litigation relating to a violent crime or a matter that is of significant public interest. Under the bill, an individual could request that an internet operator remove information the individual contends is content of minimal value from the operator’s search engine, index or website.

The operator would be required to remove the content within 30 days after receipt of the request, if the operator determines the information is of minimal value. Otherwise, the operator would have to notify the individual that the information was deemed valuable and would not be removed.

“Basically we’re saying we’ve seen this be successful in a number of different countries around the world, that a search engine has a responsibility,” Nunn said. “If they’re going to go out and make money off of people’s history or the intellectual property that they put out there, then they also have a responsibility when the individual contacts them to say I want to remove this now.”

An operator would be deemed to have committed an unlawful practice under Iowa law by failing to remove information the Iowa attorney general determines to be of minimal value, along with links to the content, within the 30-day period following a request for such removal; failing to notify the individual as to why the information will not be removed within the 30-day period; or replacing the content of minimal value that was removed with an indication of its removal.

If a court finds that a person has committed an unlawful practice, the remedies could include injunctive relief and a civil penalty not to exceed $40,000 per violation. An action for damages for injury suffered as a result of a violation would have to be brought within five years of the individual’s original request.

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“It provides Iowans an increased level of privacy online, which I think is a good thing. It also lays down a very clear marker of where we want to be because right now as we saw there’s either no protection for you out there — anything that’s online, you have no recourse to take down or revise or correct if it’s false information,” he said.

“I think it just provides a clear lane in the road in the digital world exactly like we have in the physical world,” Nunn added.

As of Tuesday, seven lobbyists were declared as undecided on the bill, but no one was signed up in favor or against the measure. It is set to go before a Senate Commerce subcommittee Wednesday, but Nunn doubted it would survive this week’s funnel deadline to remain eligible for consideration this session.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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