News / Science & Technology

Is There A 'Right to Be Forgotten'?

Kent Klein
The so-called "right to be forgotten" is being debated after the European Court of Justice ruled that the Internet search engine Google must sometimes, on request, remove links to articles containing personal information.

It's a debate about which is more important: the right to privacy or the freedom of information.

According to Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, who has provided digital marketing services to executives and celebrities, many people have something in their past they would like to removed from the Internet.

"[Let's say] they went to prison, right? And maybe ten years ago everything happened, and everything's still showing up in Google on page one, even though they've paid their dues," he said.

At the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, executive director Marc Rotenberg agrees with the court's ruling that privacy is a basic right.

"When you talk about free expression, you have to consider the ability of individuals to control the dissemination of information about themselves," he said. "That is, in many respects, the core of free expression — how we choose to express ourselves or not to say things or do things. That's, you know, what makes us human."

But a number of U.S. privacy advocates disagree with the European court's Google ruling.

For Jules Polonetsky, executive director of Washington's Future of Privacy Forum, the decision sets a legal precedent that is likely to limit the freedom of information in general — both in terms of individual privacy and, in some case, the right to a free press.

"If someone can tell search engines, news aggregators or maybe bloggers, 'Sorry, that information tells us about some individual, that individual doesn't want to be found, [so] you need to take it down,' the effects really could be dramatic," he said. "It breaks the Internet."

While the right to a free press is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the right to privacy is merely implied.

"It's a real blow to transparency if legal, public information can be obscured simply because somebody decides that it's information that they would rather not be available," said Polonetsky.

But Rotenberg says the European judges did a good job of balancing privacy with press freedom in this particular case, in which they ordered Google to delete links containing personal information about a Spanish lawyer's 1998 tax problems at the lawyer's request, because the information, the court said, was no longer relevant.

"And what the European Court of Justice has done with this decision is to say, in effect, you know, search is an important service, but it has to be done in a way that protects privacy," he said.

The ruling will be costly for Google and other search engines in Europe, but is not expected to immediately affect their U.S. operations.

You May Like

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

Euro falls after European Central Bank announces a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program More

Saudi King’s Death Clears Succession Route

Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef is Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince-in-waiting More

Cloud Hangs Over US Counterterrorism Efforts in Yemen

Sources say resignations of Yemen's president, government has left US anti-terror operations 'paralyzed,' yet an American military 'footprint' remains More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: le_comment from: California
May 17, 2014 4:14 PM
The question is - *what* do you have the right to know about other people? Googling curiosity is often spurred by a gossipy instinct: we like to find out demeaning things about other people because it makes us feel superior or even powerful, since we have, in theory, the ability to humiliate them in an encounter.

People googling for a "background" check may end up evaluating whether a person is a "good fit" - i.e., letting subtle forms of discrimination come into play. Perhaps you can learn from forum activity that the person has political beliefs you reject: that might not factor into their babysitting skills at all, but suddenly you will decide you don't like them as a person.

While many articles have been mentioning the ability of rich people to shape the information available, creating a sort of "dossier inequality", not much has been said about the inability of poor people to do anything about it when lies are embarrassing private information is posted on the Internet. Revenge porn is an extreme example, but another example might be when someone is named - mistakenly - as a person of interest in a crime: their name and other identifying information might appear in the mainstream media, which would lend further credibility to the allegation. Later exonerating articled might not appear in the same google search. You may have the "right" to have a retraction printed, but will anyone see the retraction? If you're poor, you will not be able to afford to get the references removed, whether they are true or not.

Frankly, I think all web sites should be regarded as publishing, and everyone should be held to the standards of mainstream media: they should not be able to directly name or post images of anyone who isn't a "public" figure without permission. If a mistake was made, "redaction" should mean removing the name from the original article. The standards of what constitutes a "public figure" should be very high: for instance someone should not be able to take you to small claims court, get your name on a document, and then call you a "public figure". These rules should be enforced by very easy to enforce penalties that people can claim from each other directly or with minimal administrative costs, without high legal fees.

Forums and social media systems should stop demanding displays of "real identity", because this will inevitably lead to information removal complications in the future.

Government "public documents" - such as property records, divorce proceedings, mug shots, meeting minutes - should be obtained through some procedure, not posted on the Internet for the casual Googler - or worse the big data aggregator who will profile people from this information.

Lastly, I hope people will not forget that Google isn't the only search engine. I remember giving Bing a try a few years ago, and I was horrified when a comment I had made on a silly forum circa 1995 - under my real name - was the first thing to show up. I wrote a complaint to the Bing team: they did not reply.

Sadly many people think they have a "right to know" until their own privacy has been violated: only then do they realize the profound affects that Google can have on a life - whether they did something to "deserve" it or not.


by: Glen
May 17, 2014 10:39 AM
The European Court of Justice right now, should concern itself with matters pertaining to humanitarian issues such as the heinous attack on a Zimbabwean farmer and his daughter, whilst walking on their farm. The daughter has subsequently died and the farmer has undergone delicate surgery. Please can there be real justice once and for all and International support against this barbarism.


by: Frank Bradley from: atlanta
May 17, 2014 10:09 AM
I read that Google would have to decide what is in the public interest and what is not given that the ruling exempted those things that are deemed in the public interest. Is it right to expect a private company to make that decision? How on earth would they do it? Would it not be simpler as I read that one commentator had said, for google to merely deny all requests and then be directed by a decision that was referred to an EU country regulatory board.


by: Onebhk from: ASU
May 16, 2014 10:59 PM
I would rather call it "Right to be NOT known"


by: Wondering from: somewhere
May 16, 2014 7:09 PM
I just forgot................................................


by: John
May 16, 2014 7:02 PM
This article misses the point that rights, such as a right to free speech and a right to privacy, at least as they have been conceived in the United States Constitution, exist to protect people against abuses by government, not to protect people against abuses by private companies like Google.

A right to free speech prevents the government from censoring your comments, but it does not prevent a private website from doing so.

And a right to freedom from searches prevents the government from intruding on your privacy, but it does not prevent private websites from doing so.

The concept of "rights", and the way that this "right" differs from other "rights" that we are accustomed to, needs to be clarified.

In Response

by: Thomas Reimel from: Montgomery County, pa
May 17, 2014 6:47 PM
The article misses no such point: the Court ruling pertains to the EU.

In Response

by: Chris
May 17, 2014 10:04 AM
Well said. People forget this fact or just don't know it. The same can be said for the most part regarding the U.S. Constitution and individual state constitutions. If it does succeed, one interesting derived right that might come from this is the ability to be forgotten by the government itself.


by: Thomas Paine from: California
May 16, 2014 6:58 PM
There is an older case in New York state court -Sidis case as I recall- which dealt with a written article in New Yorker magazine about a former child prdigy who sort of failed at real life, though he was a genius in his youth. He successfully sued - it was not defamation, but the magazine shouldn't have dredged up his past, as I recall. Interesting precedent for this recent European decision??


by: David Carlson from: Philadelphia
May 16, 2014 6:55 PM
It seems to me the age old conflict between justice and mercy.


by: Yror from: Boulder, CO
May 16, 2014 6:48 PM
These Euro's...I just don't get it. Let all the creeps who have something to hide erase there history.

Seems simple to me that if a website has the right to publish information about someone then the search engine should have the right to point to the pages that contain the information.

This ruling is ridiculous.


by: Steve Holle from: Montana
May 16, 2014 6:34 PM
You want a right to be forgotten? Talk to the Chinese. They have a system they'd love to sell to the EU. Have the internet your way.

Comments page of 2
    Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid