The right to be forgotten allows for EU citizens to request that links containing personal information about them be removed from search results. This right imposes a duty on Google to scrub its search results. Typically, citizens seek to remove search results that relate to past criminal history or questions about one’s moral turpitude.
Google has argued that they are careful not to remove search results that are in the public interest and that they are dedicated to defending the public’s right to access lawful information. However, France’s privacy regulators have sought to extend the right to be forgotten beyond EU borders in a bid to protect the privacy of individuals.
The European Court of Justice concluded that the protection of personal data is not an absolute right and must be balanced against people’s rights of access to information and privacy. Therefore, they imposed new geographic limits on the right to be forgotten, declaring that it should apply only within the European Union.
Read the full article on CNN: Google does not have to honour the ‘right to be forgotten’ outside Europe
The right to be forgotten was not meant to be absolute. When deciding on removal requests from users, search engines were required to consider whether the information is inaccurate, excessive or in the public interest. Although these principles were clearly elucidated, there is considerably less clarity on how a private search engine is meant to decide on questions of public interest.
How can Google decide on whether to scrub off information about one’s criminal history without going into a full-length investigation? Should they even be able to adjudicate on such matters? In a previous case, Google was ordered to scrub the criminal background of someone who no longer worked in the same field as he did when the crime was committed. The Court then decided that his past offences were no longer relevant to his current employment suitability.
While the Court has decided that the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, what can Internet users do who face a deluge of personal information online? Given that social media platforms offer users to publish information and content about us without our consent, there are considerable difficulties in trying to curate the kind of personal information that is available online.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- Why is that the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten cannot be treated absolutely? Can the value of others’ access to our personal information ever outweigh the right to privacy?
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (a nonprofit defending digital privacy and free speech) has admitted its discomfort with Google deciding which search results to be scrubbed clean. Do you agree with such sentiments? Why or why not? If so, how would you propose search results removal requests be decided?
- ‘turpitude’: inherent baseness; depravity
- ‘deluge’: an overwhelming amount or number