Last month, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a surprise verdict against internet giant Google. The ECJ ruled that European citizens have the right to request search engines delete results linking to webpages containing personal information that is deemed “irrelevant” or “out-of-date”.

Spanish resident Mario Costeja Gonzalez had requested that Google remove specific links from its search results directing to a 1998 newspaper report on his bankruptcy proceedings. The Court agreed that search engines must comply with such requests when information is either inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive.

However, the ECJ also ruled that this “right to be forgotten” is not total. For each request the correct balance must be struck between the right to data protection and privacy and the right to freedom of expression and information. In other words, search engines are under no obligation to remove results when there is a “public interest” or when data is kept for historical purposes. But who decides the correct balance between the right to information and the right to data protection? Does the individual’s “right to be forgotten” infringe on the public’s “right to remember”?

We recently spoke about the case with Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, and Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German MEP who sits with the  Greens and is rapporteur for the new General Data Protection Regulation. Do they think the ECJ’s verdict could be a threat to freedom of information?

First, we put this question to Jan Philipp Albrecht. What would he say about the recent ECJ ruling?

albrecht_squareFirst, there is no ‘right to be forgotten’, nor is there a ‘right to remember’. Neither right exists legally, and they have just been imagined by the media. But there has to be a balance between the fundamental right to data protection on one hand, and the fundamental right to freedom of information and freedom of expression on the other.

This is nothing new. These rights have been balanced together for decades, by journalists, authorities, companies, everybody. The only thing that the ECJ has said in its verdict is that if Google, or any search engine, processes personal data, then of course they also have to make this balance. So rather than changing the balance, this ruling is a clarification that also Google has to respect the right to data protection and cannot say ‘we only respect the right to freedom of information or freedom of expression’. This judgment shows how important it is that we have a unified data protection regulation in the EU that explains how far the right to deletion of personal data goes and how this right can be enforced.

Next, we put the same question to Neelie Kroes. As the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, what does she think the Court’s decision will mean for rights in the online environment?

kroesLet’s start with the positive part of this judgment: It creates more clarity and should create more trust in the online environment. Of course we must balance the right to access to information with the right to privacy. The ruling did provide some guidance on this. Each decision from now on will have to be made on an individual base, and taking into account whether the right to privacy will be in balance with the right to access to information.

Should search engines be forced to remove “irrelevant” results? Would the “right to be forgotten” limit freedom of information and expression? Where is the balance between the right to information and the right to data protection? Share your thoughts and comments in the comment section below, and we will put them to policy makers for their reaction!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Lintmachine

21 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Pedro Pais de Vasconcelos

    Of course, averyone has the right to have his data deleted from Google and/or other IT service providers and/or applications. EU is the last civilised place on Earth.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Pedro Pais De Vasconcelos
      Unfortunately, certain unsavoury types like paedophiles would exploit such CENSORSHIP!

      Are you in favour of aiding and abetting such unsavoury types?

  2. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    No… nobody has the right of being forgoten… you must be responsible of your acts… if i publish this bullshit here is my responsability. I could after one hour erase it an done!… if you leave written papers in the street with your name and adress you have to accept de consequences…

  3. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    even if you are doing illegal things? the “right to forgotten” is physically impossible, is not a matter of opinions.

  4. avatar
    Pedro Pais de Vasconcelos

    This is not a matter of a “right to be forgotten”, but of a personal “personality right” over personal data in unauthorised possession of others. And, in fact, criminal records are and shall remain under the custody of the competent judicial authorities. These are two totally different matters that should not be confounded.

  5. avatar
    Joel Dominic Rodrigues

    The big scandal here is the apparent stupidity of “journalists” and media in general that have twisted, misconstrued and misunderstood, a very simple and good idea and law. I suppose it may be a concept too sophisticated for some to grasp. Thankfully not so for the ECJ. It’s in the same realm as the “Do not track” idea and appears on the same Wikipedia page.

  6. avatar

    It’s been debate before. That’s just too little. Google is just a private service provider, basically a search engine, there are alternatives for people who want to brake the law and hide behind anonymity. How about reveling the “activities” of secret services from all the 28’s ? How about regulate the interceptions of various communications of all europeans ? How about a bill of individual rights and liberties reinforced by Constitution ?

  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    This comes under the legal ‘right to privacy.’ And that is already considered a human right. So, of course we have a right to be forgotten by those organisations who profit from our profiles. Which is what this question is really all about. Who gave these corporations permission to make money out of our personal data?

    It also has to be considered how much erroneous information is put out on so much of this internet intrusion. Lies, false information, deliberately twisted newspaper stories and so on. Most people cannot afford to take these various fraudsters to court to have them retract their malfeasance from our lives.

    Therefore, yes, it’s imperative to have the right to ‘freedom of choice’ in matters that we consider of private concern to us. Convicted criminals should have a time frame on their right to anonymity, as well as public officials who run for office or are in office. The right of the public need to know in order to judge their suitability for office is paramount to the wishes of those who run or criminals seeking to hide their history.

  8. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    The EU’s CENSORSHIP law means that apposite search results will NOT be returned BUT a note will be displayed to show that the search results were CENSORED.

    I for one would NEVER employ someone who actively sought to hide their dubious past, bit of an own-goal methinks.

    PS: The ECJ [who as I understand it does NOT have the right to set such a precedent in the first place] is now doing the 21st century equivalent of re-writing history.I don’t know about you but this reminds me of Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Kim Jong-un.

    PPS: The pooling of democracy leads to a race to the legal and moral floor.

  9. avatar
    Paul X

    The main point of the question worth noting is it use of the word “online”

    This has nothing to do with data protection or privacy but just ease of access to publicly available data

    Reference the quoted Spanish case about links to a newspaper article? well the newspaper archives are freely available in public libraries, the information will still be available to anyone who visits the library, all this is doing is making it less accessible and has nothing to do with making it more private (unless of course they extend the scope and order destruction of all the newspapers carrying the article?)

    This is just more pandering to the ” It’s my right to moan about privacy even though it’s something made public through my own stupidity” brigade

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Paul X
      Well said!

  10. avatar

    Instead dealing with private services providers one by one, it should be regulated by law applicable to any private entity that wanted to do business in Europe. Saving time and money.

  11. avatar
    graham hart

    I do not expect to have the right to have comments erased from physical news papers. No one should have the right to have comments removed from virtual news papers or from search engines.

    • avatar

      Two of the police who were sleeping with my daughters mother posted on line that I abused my daughter, if this was the case why wasn’t I taken to court, the police know this was a lie, only one of many yet anyone who checks me out will be able to see this, leading to a lot of difficulties in my life . the two detectives responsible for these lies,went to prison for taking bribes, as this proves their dishonesty the lies they told about me should be removed

  12. avatar

    Although people may want to be forgotten online, it is a ridiculous notion as if you do something in real life you wouldn’t be able to ask for someone to forget the actions you took, I think that the same applies online. If you were to write something online you are responsible for what you wrote.
    Also if another person writes something about you be it true or false, deleting that content is effectively taking away their right to free speech.
    As a side note governments requesting search engines like google to remove results is also wrong as it isn’t google’s fault the information is there. All they do is provide easy access to information available to everyone, pulling search results off search engines just doesn’t work, people can still access the information.
    So in conclusion, No you shouldn’t have the right to be forgotten.

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