The EU “right to be forgotten” case is in the news again. Barely three months from being decreed by European Court of Justice (ECJ), the ruling is still mired in controversy. As you’ve probably read by now, it gives the right to European citizens to remove from search engines materials which may be objectionable to them and has thus opened a Pandora’s box of possibilities for abuse.
Criticism has come from all sides and both the government and private sector. It has been hailed by some as a victory for privacy and scorned by others as nothing more than censorship. The latest detractor is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who last week revealed new details about the effect of the law on Wikipedia.
Wales revealed that Google has been asked to remove five links to Wikipedia just in the last week. He did so at the launch of Wikipedia’s transparency report and castigated people who would use the ruling to remove links to Wikipedia. He opined that “History is a human right and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another.” He added that “Some people say good things, some people say bad things…that’s history, and I would never use any kind of legal process to try to suppress it.” In the past he has characterized the “right to be forgotten” ruling as tyrannical and railed against government interference in the public domain.
Government inserting itself into what should be Google’s “editorial judgement” is similar to censoring what should go on a newspaper’s front page, in his judgement. In its defense, Google has argued continually that it does not want to impose editorial judgement over its search results, and stresses the neutrality of machine determined results. The result is that many more than just a few links may have been removed without Wikipedia’s knowledge.
While accepting that there should be remedies for people who were the subjects of inaccurate information published on the internet, such as libel laws or corrections, Wikipedia executives were adamant that accurate, though possibly outdated, information should stay online and should continue to be linked by search providers such as Google.
In revealing its pages being censored under the ECJ ruling, it has coincided with the initial publishing of its transparency report and follows similar steps from firms such as Twitter, Apple and Tumblr in publishing information about requests by state actors for data and content to be removed.
By his actions, Wales continues to be at the forefront in the fight to retain free speech in the media. One has to wonder whether the jurists who made the ruling fully grasped its ramifications or the fiasco that would follow. One thing is certain however- the impact over “the right to be forgotten” pronouncement is still being felt and will for a long time to come.