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EU Establishes Right to be Forgotten

The European Union (EU) believes it’s possible to be forgotten on the internet and has recently demanded that tech giants like Google, Bing and Yahoo, to make it so. The court’s decision could fundamentally remake search engines, impact journalism and lead to a very sticky toffee, as far as censorship, privacy and the public’s right to know are concerned.

The controversial ruling is still fresh, so the search engines are still trying to plan out their next steps. Google currently accepts right-to-be-forgotten requests while putting together an advisory committee that includes Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales – who argues that the ruling is “censorship plain and simple.”

What is the “right to be forgotten”?

This is a complicated issue, but let’s look at some examples of what this might look like. Consider a cheating politician, or a victim of online bullying or just a normal person who types his name into Google and doesn’t like what appears. They might want Google to remove links to any websites about themselves that are wrong, harmful, outdated, or just don’t reflect who they are. For people living in the EU, this is possible.

This is largely the result of a recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The exact case is Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González. In this case, the court ruled that individuals can ask search engine operators to remove certain results about them.

This could include links to websites that are deemed “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.” Even if the information is true, you can still keep it from showing up in the search results.

If public figures – a corrupt politician, say – would like to have negative information about themselves removed, they can try. Many of these requests will be unsuccessful, however. The court was clear that information in the “public interest” does not have to be erased from Google’s servers and that a “fair balance” between individual privacy and public interest be maintained.

More Details

This court ruling applies to all 28 EU countries plus the four European Economic Area (EEA) nations. This includes over 500 million people.

If you happen to be a resident of one of the 32 European nations, you can fill out this form online to request for the “right to be forgotten.” Applicants need three things:

  • A legible copy of a document that verifies your identity (though not necessarily a photo ID)
  • A list of all the URL links you want removed from Google’s results
  • An explanation of why each one is irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate

The Google application process allows individuals to make a request on behalf of someone, as long as proof of that individual’s identity is provided, as well as proof of authorization of the request from the individual in question.

It’s important to note however, that we currently don’t know how long it takes to “become forgotten.” However, Google says it is currently building a system for removing links in accordance with the EU ruling.

What actually happens?

Simply because Google no longer links to a webpage doesn’t necessarily mean that the page and information in question completely vanishes. However, as so much information is discovered via search engines, and since search engines enable anyone to compile a rapid dossier on a person, the court felt that removal of search engine results was both adequate and feasible.

Individuals are not totally removed from Google’s results, however. First, Google links will only be removed from EU country domains, such as Google.de or Google.fr, not from Google.com. A person using Google.com will see the links, just as before.

Also, Google intends to note on the bottom of its search results page when a particular link or links have been removed. If you search someone’s name at Google.de and see a note at the bottom of a results page that a link has been removed, you might be inclined to wonder if it was something outdated, or heinous.

Google doesn’t intend to struggle against this ruling. Individual privacy rights are valued much differently in the EU than in the US. Also, Google is facing several more potentially costly fights in Europe, which range from antitrust probes for both search and its Android operating system, to the company’s possible association with NSA spying activities. Google is also fighting European authorities over tax revenues. Until it settles those issues, the search giant might just be content to deal with its right to be forgotten requests.

Summary

The EU Court of Justice has recently ruled that search engines – including Google, Bing and Yahoo – allow users the right to be forgotten.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy expectations (II.A.)
  • Privacy by policy (III.B.)
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