By now millions of people in Europe and around the world, private citizens, government officials, and industry leaders have digested the May 13 ruling by EU Court of Justice (ECJ) vs. Google. The victory won by Mario Costeja Gonzalez has reverberated through Europe and , indeed, beyond. To date Google has been inundated by more than 50,000 requests to take down sensitive information on individuals. Now, as the dust is settling over the decree, all eyes are on the fallout from the ruling. All sides are deciding on courses of actions.
Germany, where more than 40% of requests have emanated, is considering employing arbitration panels to weigh in on what information people can force Google and other search-engine providers to remove from results. On its end, Google has developed a simplistic yet controversial form to deal with the mountain of requests received thus far. It is thought that some actions Google is considering may amount to a type of censorship
Their plans to flag censored search results is similar to how it alerts users to takedown requests over copyright infringing material. This way a viewer of the link will know that some information has been removed. Also, Google is not acceding to all takedown requests. Instead it looks like it will take a narrow interpretation of the ECJ mandate.
The Court of Justice did not ban all data processing relating to individuals. It’s ruling applies only to data which is inadequate, irrelevant or excessive. Also included is information not kept up to date or kept for longer than is necessary. An important exception should be noted here regarding data: ’… for particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life… the interference with his fundamental rights is justified by the preponderant interest of the general public in having… access to the information in question.”
Requestors will be tasked with having to say why they think the information about them is ’irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate.” Google reviewers (or arbitration courts if Germany has its way) will then consider whether there’s a pubic interest in the information, for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.
Clearly, some requestors come away disappointed. And the removal will not be squeaky clean. At best all you’ll be able to have removed is the link to that page generated by a Google search against your name. The page you want to hide may still be found by using different search terms, by using a newspaper’s own research facility or by using a search engine outside the EU-including Google.com itself.
Google is also planning to include information about ’right to be forgotten” removals in its biannual transparency report which, among other things, reveals the number of government requests worldwide to remove material from its search results. Google’s review will be headed by an advisory committee comprised of seven people, including its executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
Wales alluded to the ECJ edict as being a form of censorship. This is because, in his view, news organizations would be negatively affected as they look to Google as a primary source for information. In an interview last month with TechCrunch, Wales said:
’I think the decision (by the ECJ) will have no impact on people’s right to privacy, because I don’t regard truthful information in court records published by court order in a newspaper to be private information. If anything, the decision is likely to muddle the interesting philosophical questions and make it more difficult to make real progress on privacy issues. In the case of truthful, non-defamatory information obtained legally, I think there is no possibility of any defensible ’right’ to censor what other people are saying.’
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship opines that the court’s decision is tantamount to censorship. He said, ’The fact that Google plans to add ’flags’ to search links it has removed does nothing to tackle the fundamental problem with the ’right to be forgotten’ ruling- which is the complete absence of legal oversight in this process. We remain deeply concerned about a ruling that opens the door to a censoring of the past without any proper checks and balances.”
But the court decision is out there- it’s history. The debate rages on. For it looks like that which at first glance appeared to be a victory for personal privacy, may in fact turn out to be a type of censorship. Censorship requested by people to erase possibly nefarious information or be removed at the whim of a few corporate elites. Some people may get a chance to ’rewrite history’ by removing information from public consumption, thereby robbing the public of the most basic of rights- the right to know.