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The Right To Be Forgotten – Privacy Watchdogs vs. Search Engines

The right to be forgotten

Over a year ago, the mighty world of the Internet was overwhelmed with a ruling of the European Union (EU), termed as ‘The Right To Be Forgotten’.

A decision of the European Court of Justice which shook several heads and left many people astounded with its introduction to the digital space has actually been the buzzword since May 2014. Being a blessing in disguise for those who covet privacy on the World Wide Web, this right allows the European citizens some relief with the option to limit the information that they want the world to know.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the Internet remembers everything. So, an event that occurred decades ago, and was mentioned in the search engines way back, might be there to hound you today – even if it is of no use to the world at large, or to anyone, for that matter.

With the simple motive to dummy up the personal privacy of others, this ruling assists the Europeans to submit a removal request to search engines, asking them to delink the sources which bring in such search results that are deemed private and which are no longer accurate or significant.

How it gained momentum?

Seventeen years ago, a Spanish man was in dire straits. It was at that time when his property was auctioned and its information was given in a newspaper, which later made its way to the web. The auction that took place in 1998 had become a reason to worry for the man even after several years had passed since the auction was conducted.

Troubled with the search results of his name showing information about the auction, the man took the matter to the court and asked for the removal of the news from Google’s search results as it continued to have an impact on his reputation.

In May 2014, the Luxembourg based Court of Justice of the European Union endorsed the opinion of the man that the auction serves no purpose after so many years and the man, thus, has the right to be ‘forgotten’, which will not have a bearing on the public in general.

This is when the European Court Of Justice governed a ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ for the EU citizens, giving them the authority to request the search engines for removing links to those pages that are private for them, and are no longer significant for the web users or the general public.

According to the EU, old, inaccurate or irrelevant data should no longer appear in the search results, if the concerned person demands. This implies that even if the content is online, it will no longer come up in the search results, if the person requests for its removal.

Here is the official press release (PDF) from the court which provides detailed information about the decision taken by the EU.

Privacy lovers’ joy, Google’s nightmare

Now, let’s take a look at Google’s perspective.

For the search engine giant, a nightmare is waiting in the wings, with thousands of requests to remove links being received just within a year’s time gap.

In the long run, websites like Google would require an automated procedure to deal with the ever increasing number of such requests. An administrative ordeal for such websites and portals, this will definitely end up in costing a fortune for search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

But concentrating on the big picture, it is not merely about money, but more about the privacy and information protection, or its dearth thereof.

Not a ‘Global’ right?

While the European law has taken a big leap ahead with the enforcement of the right to be forgotten, one fact that has turned to be a matter of immense importance is that the right is only for the nation, and it can not be applied to the entire globe.

The recent formal notice of the French data protection authority, known as the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés), issued to Google for exercising the right to be forgotten on all the domain names of the search engine, has broken out complete mayhem in the world of the Internet.

The CNIL is of the opinion that even though Google removes links from the country-specific websites, it still shows the unsolicited results on which is ‘easily accessible’ to any European. The data protection authority states that the delisting of results should be effective on entire search engine, notwithstanding the type of extension which is used (.fr; .uk; .de; .com; and the rest).

On July 30th, 2015, Google responded in a new post on its official blog, stating–

“While the right to be forgotten may now be the law in Europe, it is not the law globally. Moreover, there are innumerable examples around the world where content that is declared illegal under the laws of one country, would be deemed legal in others: Thailand criminalizes some speech that is critical of its King, Turkey criminalizes some speech that is critical of Ataturk, and Russia outlaws some speech that is deemed to be “gay propaganda.”

If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

In addition to this, Google stresses on the fact that a single country should not really have the power to choose what content should be accessible to the web users in other countries.

The search engine also highlights the importance of national searches on the web by pointing out that,

“We also believe this order is disproportionate and unnecessary, given that the overwhelming majority of French internet users—currently around 97%—access a European version of Google’s search engine like, rather than or any other version of Google.”

Up till now, Google has refused to conform to the notice served by the France’s data protection regulator, and with the tough circumstances, this clash is probable to wind up in the European courts.
However, if the French order rules, then the ‘right to be forgotten’ could result in extensive and, perhaps, tumultuous outcomes.

Want to be forgotten on the Internet? That’s what you need to do!

Here is a snapshot of the Search removal request under data protection law in Europe.

But, in order to delist a page, merely submitting the request is not sufficient. It should also adhere to the Court’s criteria. Once the information is delisted, it will not appear on the Google search results, even if it is there on the websites.

Click here to get the Search Removal Request Form.

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