Does everybody have the right to be forgotten?

The question of what should and shouldn’t be searchable on the web reared its head again this week, as it was reported that Google were ordered to remove nine links to news stories by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) under the ‘right to be forgotten’.

It is believed that the reason behind the request was due to details of a minor criminal offence committed by an individual a decade ago were referenced in the news stories. This meant that a Google search using the individual’s name would bring up the news story of the offence, which the ICO took issue with.

Deputy Commissioner David Smith said that the ICO understood that links being removed because of a court ruling would be something that the media would want to cover, and that people need to be able to use Google and co. to search for news stories.

“Google was right, in its original decision, to accept that search results relating to the complainant’s historic conviction were no longer relevant and were having a negative impact on privacy,” he said.

“It is wrong of them to now refuse to remove newer links that reveal the same details and have the same negative impact.”

Google are yet to comment on the issue, but the ICO have stated that they have given the search engine giant 35 days from the order to remove the links.

Origins of the “right to be forgotten”

Back in May 2014, the European Court of Justice made a ruling that EU citizens had the ‘Right to be Forgotten’, which meant that they could request that search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo remove any links to pages that were deemed private or inappropriate. The pages would still exist on the web, but you wouldn’t be able to find them with a simple Google search.

A year later, Google announced that they would be creating a system where people could request to have nude or explicit images of themselves removed from their search results. This was seen to be a response to the rise of ‘revenge porn’ that was sweeping the web, and was recently covered in a Channel 4 documentary by journalist and broadcaster Anna Richardson.

What happens next?

When it comes to online privacy and the right to be forgotten, the waters are getting more muddied with every passing year. For example, you can find dozens of news stories that were meant to have disappeared from the web simply by searching for ‘right to be forgotten’ in the search engines, so if people really want to find these stories, they can.

The same rules apply to the revenge-porn issue. If you’re prepared to dig, you can find anything. You would hope that Google and the other search engines won’t become bogged down with millions of removal requests, each with their own motives and complexities, and start switching off to it.

When it comes to reporting, there needs to be a balance, and that doesn’t exist if anybody can have anything taken down at any time. Let’s hope that Google and co. have plenty of manpower and resources focused on giving each individual request the attention and investigation they deserve, and not just the ones that make the news.

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