The Flawed "Right To Be Forgotten" Ruling on Google Cannot and Should Not be Globalized

A eight-member panel experts tasked to review privacy issues relating to online search giant Google Inc. has rejected late last week attempts by EU privacy watchdogs to extend the “right to be forgotten” ruling beyond the 28-nation bloc – see Bloomberg report below.

The European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling last May that anyone living in the European Union and Europeans living outside the region could ask search engines like Google to remove links if they believed the online contents breached their right to privacy and are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”

I have explained in my column last July that the ruling was Much Ado About Nothing as it amounted to everything but forgotten: what Google essentially did was to remove results from name search of those names approved to be deleted but only on its European websites. The same results remain on the Google US homepage and all its non-European sites. Furthermore, Google is only removing the results but not the links.

Thus no surprise there are now efforts to address these not-so-forgotten issues.

But as I have further pointed out then, the more devastating and often overlooked impact was how any “right to be forgotten” would be a much welcomed and God-sent convenience for “women with a past and men with no future”, essentially amounting to the “right to be defrauded” as it was also described recently by Jason Wright of Kroll.

In short, anyone in support and calling to extend the “right to be forgotten” ruling – including the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner Allen Chiang who erroneously heralded it as a way to grant everyone a “second chance in life” – is not only pulling the plug on the free flow of information but also effectively facilitating the closing down of everyone’s right to information, which would derail the notion of free markets in this global economy if every individuals and entities could so conveniently erase their dirty laundries (like criminal convictions, litigation history, old debts and past bankruptcy records for starters) at the expense of their counter-parties who could no longer trace anything – especially if this ruling was blindly extended and embraced globally.

And I stress once again, the internet, originally designed to exchange raw data between researchers and scientists, has evolved into a self-contained, self-sustained and self-evolving ecosystem of records, communications, commerce, entertainment, etc. Any attempt to remove the contents, successful or otherwise, is like playing God.

Historians will mark the EU ruling as a (irreversible) seismic error. Extending it to a global scale will have no equals in the history of mankind.

Google Panel Opposes EU Data Watchdogs on Forgotten Case

by Stephanie Bodoni

(Bloomberg) — A panel of experts enlisted by Google Inc. to review privacy issues following a European Union court ruling backed the search giant’s bid to limit the “right to be forgotten” to websites within the 28-nation bloc.

The eight-member group, which includes Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, rejected a push by EU privacy watchdogs to extend search link removals to Google’s global site.

“Delistings applied to the European versions of search will, as a general rule, protect the rights of the data subject adequately in the current state of affairs and technology,” the group said in the 41-page report. “Removal from nationally directed versions of Google’s search services within the EU is the appropriate means to implement the ruling at this stage.”

A ruling by the EU Court of Justice last year created a right to be forgotten, allowing people to seek the deletion of links on search engines if the information was outdated or irrelevant. The ruling created a furor, with Mountain View, California-based Google appointing the panel to advise it on implementing the law.

The geographic scope of an EU court ruling that forced the company last year to remove some search links on request was a “difficult question that arose throughout” the panel’s meetings, the group said.

Today’s report puts the group at odds with the 28-nation EU’s data-protection regulators who last year urged the company to allow people to seek the deletion of links to some personal data on the company’s main U.S. website.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German justice minister and one of the panel’s member, said that she opposed the majority view of the group on the geographical scope of the EU court ruling.

EU Domains

Removal requests “must not be limited to EU domains,” she said in the report. “The Internet is global, the protection of the user’s rights must also be global. Any circumvention of these rights must be prevented.”

The Google advisory group last year visited seven European cities, from Rome to Berlin, listening to academics and public officials.

“It’s been valuable to hear a wide range of viewpoints in recent months across Europe and we’ll carefully consider this report,” David Drummond, Google’s top lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re also looking closely at the guidance given by Europe’s data protection authorities as we continue to work on our compliance with” the EU court ruling.

The company has received 212,109 requests to remove 767,804 links from its website to date, according to its website.

Initial Split

The deletion of links beyond the 28-nation EU was one of two issues that created an initial split between Google and data-protection regulators. Regulators have complained that information blocked on EU websites shouldn’t be easily accessible by visiting Google in other countries by changing a few characters on the browser address line.

The company’s policy of notifying the media about deleted links to stories on their websites also sparked the ire of regulators. The report recommended that search engines “should notify the publishers to the extent allowed by law.”

“In complex cases, it may be appropriate for the search engine to notify the webmaster prior to reaching an actual delisting decision,” the panel said. “If feasible, it would have the effect of providing the search engine additional context about the information at issue and improve accuracy of delisting determinations.”