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MEPs: clarity needed on "right to be forgotten"

Open Rights Group panel

By Jane McCallion

Posted on 16 May 2014 at 12:24

The ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that Google must remove a link to a notice about a man who had his house repossessed in Spain may be difficult to enforce under current legislation, according to MEPs.

Speaking at the Open Rights Group’s EU Digital Debate in London last night, Sarah Ludford, the Lib Dem MEP for London admitted it is unclear how the ruling on the “right to be forgotten” will work in practice beyond the current case.

“The devil is going to be in the detail,” said Ludford.

“We need more clarity, more detail than the court judgement this week has given,” she added, arguing that new European data protection legislation could provide this.

Danny Bates, representing the Green Party, said it should only be applicable in a “small number of cases” and also questioned whether or not the mechanism proposed in the ECJ’s ruling is the correct one.

Nevertheless, Ludford, Bates and their fellow panellists, felt the ruling was important in upholding individuals’ rights to privacy.

Labour MEP Claude Moraes, the Labour MEP for London, said his party was supporting the “Right to be Forgotten” – which he pointed out is rightfully called the “Right to Erasure” – as there “has to be a right to personal privacy".

However, he said it’s a “limited right” and said “there will be safeguards in place”.

Ludford added she “wouldn’t want to get into the situation where people couldn’t find legitimate information about dodgy or fraudulent traders”, adding this is why MEPs need to "dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s in the [data protection] legislation".

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User comments

This is going to get messy.

For example, people who are convicted criminals are asking for links to be removed, which introduces a privacy vs public interest debate or whether they'll just 'play it safe' and remove it anyway.

Could this cause the Streisand effect meaning that efforts to remove themselves just highlight what they want removed?

In many ways this reminds me of the DMCA takedowns or 1984 albeit on a personal level.

By tech3475 on 16 May 2014

How does this compare (in terms of deciding which actions to agree, and technical feasibility) with the requirement for Google to takedown links to copyright infringing websites?
I hear Google making a lot of noise about how it is all impossible, but they said that about copyright.
The rights and wrongs of the idea are another matter, but Google seems to be arguing their case from the perspective of how impossible it is to implement. I'd have thought mapping and indexing the globe was a more difficult ask, to say nothing of driveless cars, but they seem to take the impossible in their stride when it suits them.

By martindaler on 17 May 2014

Idle muckraking

I think there is some good in the EU's stance, even if implementing it successfully and fairly will be something of a learning curve.
I understand that the "info" will still be out there on the web, and it is only the search engines' links which are under discussion. But that is exactly what is needed - to increase the effort required to dig up the dirt.
It is one thing for the information to exist and be available to those willing to invest effort to find it. It is another thing for it to be promoted to every casual enquirer or mischief-maker at no cost of effort.

If every time your name is Googled up pop links to an old eviction notice, a regrettable youthful indiscretion, or the like - that is not something we had to contend with even 15 years ago. We could learn from our mistakes and move on. I think the issue deserves consideration. The EU seems to be the only body doing that.

By martindaler on 17 May 2014

@martinadaler

the problem in this case stems from the fact that in the past the newspaper articles (public record) would fall into obscurity by the time that the information was no longer relevant - that is the crux of the matter here, the information has passed its sell-by date and is causing a negative impact on the person's life, even though it cannot legally be used against him.

With a newspaper in the 20th century, somebody would have to go to the newspaper archives or a library archive to look up the information. Because the papers are no online and, through search engines, searchable it means this information is no longer obscure by the time it loses its legal relevancy.

The decision would, I beleive, affect all non-news sites (registered press being news), so if it was on a blogging site, they could also be asked to remove the information if it is no longer relevant. As the story is public record on the newspaper site, the only option is to make it as hard as possible for people to find, as the information cannot be legally used to affect the person's creditworthiness rating.

His complain was, that this was the case, because people quickly found the decision on Google, even though they shouldn't use the information found.

By big_D on 19 May 2014

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