Blog by Richard Heagy
Someone long thought to be dead recently filed a complaint with the European Commission for violation of his human rights, in particular, the right to be forgotten and erasure of personal data no longer relevant pursuant to Article 17. They wondered if perhaps a relative or descendant filed the complaint. The European Commission, not burdened with budget restraints, dispatched one of its highly paid bureaucrats to the far ends of the globe to investigate the complaint, and in particular verify the identity of the complainant. After a flight from Brussels to Buenos Aires, followed by a lengthy train ride, and change of buses, the highly paid bureaucrat (unaccustomed to such uncomfortable travel accommodations) arrived at his fact-finding destination in Argentina.
BUS DRIVER: End of the line.
(The bus stops at the corner of a side street that abuts the town plaza and all depart, including a few chickens. The EU OFFICIAL is the last one off the bus. He holds a briefcase in one hand and with the other dusts off his jacket; then looks round as everyone seems to disappear. Small shops and cafés line the plaza, accompanied by a few kiosks or food stands here and there. Suddenly, what appears to be a taxi approaches, belching exhaust, and comes to a sudden halt)
DRIVER: Señor, at your service.
EU OFFICIAL: Am I supposed to ride in that thing?
DRIVER: The Mercedes is in the shop.
EU OFFICIAL: Of course it is.
DRIVER: It’s not really in the shop. We rarely use it so as not to attract attention. I am here to pick you up. He does not trust anyone else.
EU OFFICIAL: Him? Oh, you mean …
DRIVER: Don’t say his name in public.
EU OFFICIAL: Of course not.
DRIVER: It’s just a short distance.
(They ride to the far side of the plaza and stop by an ice cream stand, which is in front of an empty store. Postcards line the rectangular shape of the stand. The proprietor (ADOLF) is slender with piercing eyes, short and sports a beard that cannot make up its mind if it is grey or black, the same as what is left of the hair on the top of his head, revealed when he occasionally takes off his straw hat to fan himself. He sits on a tall stool behind the ice cream containers)
ADOLF (leaning forward): May I help you?
EU OFFICIAL: I am here about your complaint.
ADOLF: Which one?
EU OFFICIAL: Involving the EU.
ADOLF: Did you want some ice cream?
EU OFFICIAL: Not really, I’m lactose intolerant.
ADOLF: This is a small town. People will be suspicious if you stand here for very long without buying something.
EU OFFICIAL: Maybe a chocolate ice cream cone, just one scoop.
ADOLF: We do not have different flavours, just pure white vanilla.
EU OFFICIAL: I might have guessed.
(ADOLF places a small scoop of vanilla on a waffle cone and hands it to the EU OFFICIAL)
ADOLF: That will be 25 pesos. Hand me your ID when you give me the money.
(ADOLF looks at the front and back of the ID, then returns it)
ADOLF (continuing): How was your trip?
EU OFFICIAL: OK, but first-class was sold out so I had to fly business class from Brussels to Buenos Aires.
ADOLF: We all have to bear life’s hardships.
EU OFFICIAL: Then it took ten hours by train to Córdoba.
ADOLF: The bus is more comfortable, but you should have flown; it takes less than two hours.
EU OFFCIAL: What? The travel agent told me there were no flights between Buenos Aires and Córdoba. She obviously sabotaged me because I interrupted her while she was texting a friend about what nail polish to wear.
EU OFFICIAL: The bus ride from Córdoba to Villa Maria was comfortable, and took about two hours. However, the last part—from Villa Maria to here—was the worst. The ride was very bumpy and the bus broke down twice. Each time the bus stopped for repairs, the driver waited for a priest to bless the bus before he would continue.
ADOLF: If you think that was bad, you should have been on the submarine that brought me to Argentina. First, I had to fly to Denmark in a light plane. Then a couple of weeks on a submarine—diving every time there was trouble on the horizon.
EU OFFICIAL: Was that one of those U-530 submarines that surrendered to the Argentine Navy at Mar del Plata in July of 1945?
ADOLF: No, I arrived a week or so later, stayed for a while in Córdoba, then stayed at a couple of ranches outside of Bariloche. There were many Nazis, I mean Germans, living in and around Bariloche at the time, but of course I had to stay out of sight so I could not walk around the city or enjoy the German restaurants.
EU OFFICIAL: Gesundheit!
ADOLF: Are you crazy?
EU OFFICIAL: What do you mean?
ADOLF: Do not speak to me in German. Are you trying to get me killed?
EU OFFICIAL: Certainly not.
ADOLF: Even though I avoided going into Bariloche, there are many Germans in the surrounding area and I always worried that someone might recognise me. Every so often, I feel the need to move for my safety, so, for now I am here, where there are no other Germans.
EU OFFICIAL: By the way, how is it that you are still alive? Everyone thinks you are dead.
ADOLF: As Mark Twain once said, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.
EU OFFICIAL: You must be at least 125 years old by now.
ADOLF: You stop counting after 100. It gets harder and harder to walk with the arthritis reaching more places.
EU OFFICIAL: What is your secret—something you got from Doctor Mengele?
ADOLF: He died almost 30 years ago, and longevity was not his specialty.
EU OFFICIAL: Right—they did call him the “Angel of Death”.
ADOLF: Have you have heard of Doctor Oz?
EU OFFICIAL: Are you referring to the Wizard of Oz?
ADOLF: Don’t be ridiculous.
EU OFFICIAL: Who is Doctor Oz then?
ADOLF: One of those American television personalities, I believe. They are always promoting vitamin supplements or something or other to improve your health.
EU OFFICIAL: So the secret is vitamins, is it?
ADOLF: I am not sure, but it is probably some combination of herbs. I heard from an American tourist some time ago about this Doctor Oz, who is a real medical doctor, and looked into it.
EU OFFICIAL: Maybe I can get some of this longevity stuff. It would be great for my career if I could outlast my contemporaries in the EU and rise to the top through attrition.
ADOLF: First, I don’t even know the actual name of it. They have to put something innocuous on the label to get through customs, so the label says “Natural Cooking Spices” and lists the ingredients: cumin, turmeric and ginger.
EU OFFICIAL: Maybe I can have a chemist experiment with varying the proportions of the ingredients to replicate the formula.
ADOLF: It’s not that simple. My supplier removes the original label and replaces it with a fake; whatever the ingredients are, they are not cumin, turmeric or ginger. Proof is in the odour and the taste.
EU OFFICIAL: You said first; that means there must be a second reason, or maybe more.
ADOLF: Of course there is. If you were to get your hands on a bottle of this stuff or even if you discovered the formula, it would not do you any good in Europe.
EU OFFICIAL: I don’t follow you.
ADOLF: You would have to move here for it to work.
EU OFFICIAL: Move here. You must be kidding.
ADOLF: Not at all. The formula only prolongs life because of the local water; something happens when they are mixed together.
EU OFFICIAL: What would I do here?
ADOLF: Maybe raise some goats or weave baskets. I hear it is very relaxing, but I have never tried it myself.
EU OFFICIAL: Let’s just forget about it. Is there anything you miss from Germany?
ADOLF: I used to watch Disney animations.
EU OFFICIAL: Mickey Mouse cartoons?
ADOLF: Mickey Mouse was a degenerate tap-dancing idiot. My favourite was Snow White; it was based on a German fairy tale known as Sneewittchen.
EU OFFICIAL: I never knew that.
ADOLF: Maybe we should discuss what you came here for.
EU OFFICIAL: I was about to say that.
ADOLF: First, you might want to wipe the ice cream off your jacket. It’s dripping because you are just holding it. You didn’t even taste it.
EU OFFICIAL: Shit. Do you have a towel?
(ADOLF looks around, finds a rag and hands it to the EU OFFICIAL, who brushes himself off)
ADOLF: You are lucky it isn’t chocolate.
EU OFFICIAL: Why are you selling ice cream? You must have enough money to live comfortably without working.
ADOLF: You people in Brussels must have your heads so far in the clouds you couldn’t even hear an elephant fart in the building lobby, if there were one in the lobby. There is probably some EU regulation that prohibits elephants within 500 kilometres from the building; I wouldn’t be surprised if the regulation also applies to ants, not that you could enforce it.
EU OFFICIAL: Well, I am able to recognise that you did not answer my question.
ADOLF: Everyone is required to have an identity card, which must list an address and an occupation.
EU OFFICIAL: Can’t you just say you are retired?
ADOLF: Retired from what? Chancellor of Germany and Führer of the Third Reich.
EU OFFICIAL: I guess not.
ADOLF: This town is not that big. Even if retired were an acceptable category, people would wonder about the source of my wealth.
(He scoops up some ice cream, puts it in a cone and holds it out to the EU OFFICIAL)
EU OFFICIAL: I don’t want another ice cream.
ADOLF: Take it before someone wonders why you are just standing in the hot sun talking to me for so long.
(The EU OFFICIAL takes it and reluctantly tastes it)
ADOLF (continuing): There’s a fellow across the plaza has a bookshop that stocks international travel books in several languages.
EU OFFICIAL: Looking at the people around here, I find it hard to believe that they have enough money to travel abroad.
ADOLF: Nevertheless, he makes a good living.
EU OFFICIAL: Selling books to locals?
ADOLF: He makes money off tourists. He is a pickpocket.
EU OFFICIAL: Oh.
ADOLF: Now, do you understand? I am an ice cream vendor. I can’t just say so, or someone would get suspicious. So, I spend a couple hours a day selling ice cream, to tourists and a few locals. It’s the locals I have to be careful with, especially the Comandante de Policía, but he’s no problem when he brings his two little girls for an ice cream cone. Ice cream is very popular in Argentina and I always give them a double.
EU OFFICIAL: What’s with the postcards?
ADOLF: You must know that when I lived in Vienna I was an artist. I produced hundreds of works, paintings and postcards, mostly watercolours. Now I just paint postcards; the tourists seem to like them and I sell quite a few. Nowadays I just paint local scenes, nothing like my previous work in Germany, as I do not want to be recognised by some visiting art historian. I use watercolours and then convert them to printed postcards. Of course, they are unsigned.
EU OFFICIAL: Most interesting, but back to the matter at hand. You have filed a complaint under EU Article 17 concerning your right to be forgotten and erasure of your personal details. The regulation creates an obligation for a controller, such as Google, who has made personal data public, to ensure erasure of such data where an individual wants his data deleted because it is no longer needed or still relevant.
ADOLF: I know all that.
EU OFFICIAL: Instead of filing a request for deletion with Google or some other data controller, you have filed a complaint directly with the EU, for which there is no such procedure.
ADOLF: That’s not the point. The EU by regulation can expand this right to be forgotten and to erasure to all relevant parties. Otherwise, it is a hollow rule because someone’s personal information is still widely available on the internet and in print, such as bookstores and even worse, in classrooms.
EU OFFICIAL: What good would such expansion of the regulation do, unless there is some way to enforce it? Do you propose that we burn all of the books that mention you?
ADOLF: No, just the ones that portray me in a bad light.
EU OFFICIAL: I think that would come close to 100%.
ADOLF: You may be right, but all of those things, if they did happen, which I do not admit, were such a long time ago.
EU OFFICIAL: The cost of destroying all history books in the schools and replacing them in Germany alone would be prohibitive for starters.
ADOLF: I have a solution.
EU OFFICIAL: Your last one did not work out so well.
ADOLF: You see, you yourself are an example of why my right to be forgotten and to erasure should be respected; it is a fundamental human right and should apply to everyone.
EU OFFICIAL: But you are an historical figure.
ADOLF: Bah. I hear that they don’t even teach history in in the schools or universities anymore. Some hogwash about safe spaces, spread by a recent disease called political correctness.
EU OFFICIAL: Maybe so, but that argument is not going to convince anyone in Brussels. Assuming for arguments sake that the cost were not prohibitive, it is not a practical solution as students would not have access to history books until new ones could be printed and distributed.
ADOLF: As I said, I have a solution, one that will not only solve the problem but increase employment for downsized older workers, especially the ones who cannot be trained for newer technological jobs.
EU OFFICIAL (with a look of scepticism): Go on.
ADOLF: First, you order thousands of black markers; that will help the businesses that produce them, which will need to hire more workers.
EU OFFICIAL (raising his eyebrows): OK.
ADOLF: Hire several hundred editors to redact the objectionable material about me, using the black markers. They would have to work in a secure facility and, of course, need to be searched upon entering and leaving the premises.
EU OFFICIAL: Who would decide what is objectionable?
ADOLF: I would, of course.
EU OFFICIAL: The information would be highly confidential. What if it got lost in the mail?
ADOLF: Quite simple. Deliver it to me by courier. Someone such as you could fly to Buenos Aires, first-class naturally, accompanied by a junior courier, who would fly in the back of the plane. You could fly to Córdoba and stay there while your junior courier journeys onward to see me. Córdoba is much like a European city. You can enjoy fine dining while your junior courier enjoys the train ride to this province, and the last stretch by bus.
EU OFFICIAL (positively): Hum.
ADOLF: The redacted copies will be securely protected at all times in a metal briefcase with a combination lock, and chained to the wrist of the courier. In addition to a government issued ID, the courier will prove his bona fides by using a secret handshake.
EU OFFICIAL: I see.
ADOLF: So far, so good, right?
(The EU OFFICIAL just nods)
ADOLF (continuing): Upon approval of the redactions, the EU will hire thousands of workers to delete the objectionable material by hand, using the black markers. You can feed the redacted books back into the educational institutions piecemeal as they are completed, making the process less disruptive.
EU OFFICIAL: What about others, such as libraries?
ADOLF: They will be scattered around a much wider area than the schools and universities. You should probably have the personnel involved in this project wear some kind of uniform for ease of identification, in addition to government issued photo ID.
EU OFFICIAL: Would they use the secret handshake?
ADOLF: Absolutely not, its use must be extremely limited—probably just for the courier who deals with me.
EU OFFICIAL: I was just trying to cover all bases.
ADOLF: Maybe the uniforms should have some kind of logo.
EU OFFICIAL: Good idea. What colour do you think the uniforms should be?
ADOLF: Maybe brown.
EU OFFICIAL: Just what I was thinking.
EU OFFICIAL: On the other hand, UPS uses brown uniforms, and they deliver packages worldwide.
ADOLF: Hum. We will have to think that over.
EU OFFICIAL: That about raps it up. I believe there is a bus leaving in an hour.
ADOLF: Please keep me informed on your progress.
EU OFFICIAL: Of course, if there is nothing else, I will say goodbye.
ADOLF: Before you leave, would you like to buy some postcards?