A right to be forgotten? Whose Right? To Forget What?

A right to be forgotten? Whose Right? To Forget What?

The internet these days is everybody’s first choice of reference: – if you want to settle a pub quiz or a dispute about a football match in the 1960’s or anything whatsoever just “Google it” and there the answer will be.

Imagine if Google said it had forgotten which Country won the World Cup in 1966. Bit of a surprise.

In future for some questions you might need to use Google.com, or Google.au – if you use Google.co.uk some of the answers will be missing. There is now in Europe– according to the Judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014 – a “Right to be Forgotten”

[Philosophy corner – Is there really a right to be forgotten, in human relationships? On the one hand, Mud sticks, and sometimes the newspapers print a libel on their front pages, and a later apology in tiny print lost among the small ads. And the Internet remembers the false allegations and might lose the apology. Most people might agree let’s delete it and forget all about it. But what about a Celebrity who wants to erase links to a deeply regretted hairstyle in their teens in the 1980’s. Is it too trivial? Who decides? And of course, Rolf Harris and several others would prefer that things that happened in the last Century be forgotten no doubt. The reality is that healthy humans do not usually forget things about each other.]

The Judgment goes short of saying that information in the Internet must be located and destroyed [as if that would be possible anyway]. What it says is that a search engine such as Google.co.uk working in Europe must erase links to information on the Internet if that information appears to be “inadequate irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive in relation to the purposes at issue”

Quite apart from the consideration of the extraordinary burden this places upon Google and other European search engines, the real question is whether the Judgment should be sustained.

A recent report [click to read it] of the English House of Lords Committee  uses language which is remarkably robust for a diplomatic paper. See para 56 – the decision is both “unworkable” and “wrong in principle”

There is shortly to be a new European law on the subject of Data Protection which is expected to address this topic again. We shall wait and see