A landmark decision
in Europe has repositioned how Google and other online search providers respond to requests made by private citizens to remove search results listed on their services. The European Court of the Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the ‘right to be forgotten’ prevails over the rights to freedom of information and economic interests, allowing the ‘requester’ to effectively force the removal of search results that may be deemed ‘irrelevant’ or ‘excessive’. The implications of such enforcement could change the face of the open access to Internet search results as we currently know it.
This could mean the opportunity to have private citizens control access to the information they wish to have published about themselves. A convicted criminal might seek to have all mention of his name in relation to the crimes committed removed after a period of time, effectively ‘rewriting history’.
By contrast, a ruling in favour of access to information could eliminate the subject’s ability to ever disassociate from a poor experience that ended up online.
In the ECJ case, Google submitted that requests to have information removed would be best directed to the website posting the information rather than to the content aggregator. This argument was rejected, with the ECJ ruling instead that search engines that find the data, index it, store it temporarily and finally, “make it available to Internet users” are to be considered the “controller in respect to that processing”, thus placing the onus on the search engine provider, in effect, converting it to something much more than a mere aggregator of information.
Google will now be faced with the challenge (at least within the EU) of separating the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ removal requests, the logistics of which are currently under review by Google.
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Summary by: Jennifer R Davidson
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