An Update on the Right to be Forgotten

Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomThe EU ruling on the right to be forgotten has continued to cause controversy as being seen as a barrier to free speech. The ruling, which gives individuals the right to request irrelevant or inadequate information about themselves be removed from the search engines, has been met with reluctance, not only from Google itself but also from the press. So far, more than 250,000 requests have been submitted to Google for information to be removed.

In order to preserve the authenticity of the user experience, anyone who is presented with a list of search results that have been edited under this ruling will be told that “results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”.

The nature of the articles which have been subject to requests so far have varied widely in nature. Many, as to be expected, relate to criminal cases whilst several are simply pieces of information which the subject feels there is no need to be present online. Requests have also been made to remove irrelevant information about individuals who fear it could be wrongly attributed to them.

The Right to be Forgotten has recently been labelled “unworkable and wrong” by the EU Committee from the House of Lords. It is their belief, and one that is shared by many others, that it is unacceptable for people to be able to restrict access to information about themselves simply because they are not comfortable with it. It has also not gone without note that Google may deny individual requests based on who the request comes from. For example, if the person has a public role, such as a politician, then this request may not be considered to be in the public interest. The person who has lodged the request is also a major factor when considering criminal cases. Many have argued that this information shouldn’t be removed at the request of the wrong-doer, however, if the victim is also suffering as a result of this information being publically available and easily accessible, then should this person be granted a removal request?

Those who are in support of the ruling claim that its power has been wildly exaggerated. They reiterate that far from being a way to remove unfavourable content from the internet, it is simply a way to rid the search engines of information which is of both no use to the user or the person in question. In addition, the ruling does not impose upon freedom of expression or the fundamental right of free speech. Furthermore, it is not to be used as a technique to eradicate inconvenient content or content that could be deemed damaging to a person’s reputation in an attempt to be misleading.

Adding this human element to the search algorithm has the potential to improve usability and relevance but could arguably also have the reverse effect. When considering any request, it must be determined if the act of removal would provide a greater good than the act of preserving the information.

If Google were to refuse your request for information removal, then currently you would have to procure the services of a lawyer to address this request again.  However, as with laws of any type, it is more than likely that the fine details will evolve over time. For now, the ruling is here to stay and it seems still as much present in media conversation as when it was first announced.