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OPLIN 4cast #386: The right to be forgotten

Posted in 4cast

EU Court of Justice emblemOn May 13, the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) in Luxembourg ruled that an individual can demand that Google remove certain search results that appear when someone Googles that individual’s name. This landmark ruling on the “right to be forgotten” quickly became the topic of a flurry of media stories. Many librarians may not be sure exactly how they feel about this topic. On the one hand, as the Index on Censorship noted, withholding selected information may seem “…akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books.” But on the other hand, libraries are carefully protective of their users’ privacy. What is the best balance between the right to know and the right to privacy?

  • US v Europe – a cultural gap on the right to be forgotten (BBC News/Rory Cellan-Jones)  “So a battle between two views of freedom – the US belief that free speech trumps everything, and the European view that individuals should have some control over what the world knows about them. But there is something else in play here, a growing unease about the power wielded by what are nearly always US web giants over our lives. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other firms that store and use vast banks of data about Europeans have all sought to deny responsibility for how people use and share that information.”
  • ‘Right to be forgotten’ ruling creates a quagmire for Google et al (The Guardian/James Ball)  “Most major tech giants are based in the US – which thanks to the first amendment, is very unlikely to require companies to restrict search results (ie what they can ‘publish’) due to overseas privacy requirements. The results could become exceedingly strange: will people searching from the US be able to see the ‘private’ data of EU citizens, while natives of those countries cannot? Or will companies with no EU footprint be able to serve up results, but those with sales offices in EU countries be required to censor them?”
  • The myths & realities of how of the EU’s new “right to be forgotten” in Google works (Search Engine Land/Danny Sullivan)  “One strategy would be for Google (or any search engine) to decide not to decide. Any request it receives, it could respond that unless the request relates to some very specific situations, it will be rejected because Google doesn’t believe it can fairly judge between the right of privacy and the right of free speech. Instead, Google could recommend that someone go to a particular country’s privacy agency for a ruling and let that agency make the call.”
  • UnGoogle me: The case for scrubbing search results (Business Week/Paul Ford)  “Google has long been willing to scrub the public record in order to ease the distress of its users. It doesn’t advertise this widely. But its index has never been total. Illegal material, copyright violations, and the like have been kept out. Google is not an impartial arbiter of the Web. It is a mediated, incomplete index, influenced by plenty of outside factors and long-term commercial goals.”

Case facts:
In 2010, a Spanish man filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, AEPD) against Google and a newspaper that had published an item about his financial situation in 1998. The AEPD rejected the complaint against the newspaper, but asked Google to remove the item from their search results. Google appealed to the Spanish National High Court, and that court referred the question to the EU Court of Justice in 2012.