Where Trans Rights and the Right to be Forgotten Meet
When earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights handed down its decision that users of the Internet have the right to have their information removed from the online sphere, it provoked a whole range of reactions.
Some said this was an important case to give power back to Internet users, while others were concerned that the ruling was a blow to public disclosure and that eventually it will allow corporations to shield information of misdeeds from the public eye. One woman from the UK, known to the courts as “C,” saw a different opportunity though.
C is a 44-year-old trans woman from the Greater London area. She is asking the courts to mandate that the government’s Department for Work and Pensions erase the fact that she was birth-assigned male from its records. She contends that her gender affirmation treatment is a private matter and that, particularly now the surgical portion of her treatment is complete, there is no reason why the government should want to keep that information on her employment status file.
The DWP routinely keeps personal identification details to ensure that it can accurately track job seeker allowance payments and make sure they are being made to the right person. The DWP does take precautions to safeguard customers, including marking cases dealing with gender transition as a “sensitive account.” However, trans rights groups who are backing C’s claim say that this often fails to give proper protection to claimants.
To bolster her case, C points to the fact that she has received a gender recognition certificate, a legal document which shows that for all other legal purposes C is affirmed in her female identity. As someone who has faced long-term unemployment and thus must rely on job-seekers allowance, C says that she has faced having her female identity questioned as part of the job seeking process. In addition, she contends that a number of her payments have been late, threatening her financial security, and that a number of staff who live in her region have as a result of the government retaining this information found out that C was birth-assigned male. According to reports, C does not say she has been harassed as a result of this disclosure, but that the very fact that this information is being disclosed puts her at risk of harm.
However, some trans rights commentators say that while they understand the use of the recent ruling against Google that people have a right to be forgotten, it’s actually superfluous to this case. The UK’s own laws give great deference to equal treatment under the law and, given that C has received a gender recognition certificate the mechanism should be in place for wiping the previous record. In effect, the government is keeping this data despite having a clearly traceable line should it ever need to work back through C’s paperwork. They claim that the government is in violation of the Equalities Act and must stop preserving this data. This line of argument may also feature as part of C’s case.
The possibility of discrimination in the employment sector is particularly concerning. For instance, some US studies show that trans people are at least twice as likely to face unemployment when compared to a wider national sample, a statistic that ramps up if that trans individual is a person of color. This contributes to high levels of poverty and homelessness, and while there are many trans people who are incredibly successful at their jobs can, at the other end of the spectrum, also lead to tragic losses of life, too.
The right to be forgotten, in this case then, takes on a new meaning: it’s about a simple right to a harassment-free future, and one with the same opportunities and prospects as everyone else.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.