Knickerbocker Glori-a tees up the right to be forgotten

Gloria di Piero, the new shadow minister for women and equality, was involved in an attempted cover up last week. But with not a moat or a duck house in sight – this involved an exposé of another sort altogether.

Breasts. We all have them, so they should hardly be making news. But it’s apparently a big deal when a Labour frontbencher is understood to sport a pair.

The proof of these mammaries is reportedly found in topless photographs taken when she was just 15. Last week di Piero issued a plea to the press to call off its hunt for the images of her in little more than her knickers.

The MP blogged: “No one should have to worry that something they did when they were young might prevent them from serving their community or getting involved in politics at a local or national level”, adding that politics shouldn’t only be open to those “who were planning their political careers in their teens”.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all probably done things we’d rather forget, and certainly would prefer not to feature on the roll call of quasi soft porn on the Mail Online. Should we have a right to forget our past and be rehabilitated?

Your authors differ in age (slightly). The elder’s bad hair days, flares faux pas – and worse – may now only be a distant memory and a faded Polaroid, easy to destroy. That said, the recent furore over the Daily Mail article on Ed Miliband’s deceased father Ralph was principally based on a journal entry by the then 17 year old.

The younger author and her peers, growing up in a cyber world, may have solid grounds to fear that every past thought, word and deed are like items of clothing that can never be removed, forming an unchangeable image of themselves for all to see, no matter that in fact, they may have changed dramatically over the years.

For example, Paris Brown, the 17-year-old appointed as Britain’s first youth police and crime commissioner, was forced to step down after a number unwise tweets – posted between the ages of 14 and 16 – which seemingly glorified drugs and violence attracted attention, scuppering what might have been a promising career.

The courts have previously grappled with bare breasts. In the unreported case of A v B & C (No 1) in 2001, a pop-star successfully prevented publication of “glamour photographs” of her, taken as a young and more vulnerable girl many years before. But this isolated judgment did not result in a slew of so-called cover-ups – as the tabloids might have reported them – or protection, as privacy lawyers might assert. History happened, but it can be raked up, reignited on the Internet and ranked highly on search engines causing long term upset and damage.

There is no right to shrug off one’s past like a snake’s skin. Last year, former England manager Steve McLaren was refused an injunction to prevent a kiss-and-tell exposé by a former lover as he was still considered a “prominent public figure” from whom the “public could reasonably expect a higher standard of conduct” – despite having held the role for only 16 months, five years previously.

There may be moves afoot to implement the right to be forgotten into European data protection laws with a European Court of Justice decision pending. But for the time being, digital footprints will not be lost in cyber space, so what seemed like a good idea at 14 may still end up haunting our younger generations long into old age.

For centuries, our US cousins have fought for the right to bare arms. Meanwhile across the pond, we should perhaps now be fighting for the right to bear bare breasts. And in the immortal words of California’s former Governor Arnie, in Total Recall be allowed to “forget about it”.

Caroline Thompson, a solicitor in Withers’ media and reputation management team, assisted with this article