The new rules, which are set to be in place later this year, put the EU in the vanguard of Internet privacy laws and could influence other countries, namely the United States, as Internet law becomes an increasingly pressing and controversial arena. What's more, the stronger EU stance on privacy may have profound effects on companies like Facebook, which declined to be interviewed for this article, that have millions of users across Europe.
"While social networking sites and photo-sharing services have brought dramatic changes to how we live, new technologies have also prompted new challenges," said Ms. Reding in a February speech. She went on to say it is "now more difficult to detect when our personal data is being collected."
She says "people shall have the right – and not only the possibility – to withdraw their consent to data processing. The burden of proof should be on data controllers – those who process your personal data."
Reding's spokesman, Matthew Newman, says the right to be forgotten is simply a modernization of existing laws: "It already exists in the sense that if you live in the EU you have control over your data. But what's missing is that it hasn't taken account of how we use the Internet now. Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing as social media."
The legal rejig will also see companies forced to prove they need to collect the data for which they ask and allow users to remove all traces of themselves from sites they join.
"If you sign up for Twitter or Facebook or a photo-sharing site," he says, "you agree to share your data, though you probably don't read the terms. It should be very easy for you to delete it, and it should be really deleted."