In May this year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made its infamous ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling, which allows individuals to request that search engines (mainly Google) remove links to articles about them that ‘appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed.’
Two of the more bizarre aspects of the ruling are that results must be removed even when they are of are factually correct, and that while search results must be removed, the information they point to can remain online.
The whole thing has been a massive headache for Google (which is responsible for over 90 percent of European web searches), and which despite opposing the ruling is largely responsible for implementing it. Faced with an overwhelming logistical challenge, Google has now at streamlined the takedown process:
Total number of requests (up to 21 October 2014)
UK requests (up to 21 October 2014)
So far 46 of the removed links point to articles published by the BBC (fortunately Google does notify website owners when it removes links), including (ironically enough) a link to a blog post about Google’s link removal (it is believed a complaint was made by someone who commented on the article)!
BBC head of editorial policy David Jordan told a public meeting hosted by Google that the BBC disagreed with some of the removal decisions, and that greater care should be given to the public’s ‘right to remember’, before announcing that ‘in the next few weeks’ the BBC would start publishing a list of removed URLs, which would act as a ‘resource for those interested in the debate.’
As an example of how the ‘right to be forgotten’, which has a ‘lack of a formal appeal process’ can be detrimental to the public good, Jordan cited a case where news of a trial involving members of the Real IRA was removed from search results, ‘two of whom were subsequently convicted,’
‘This report could not be traced when looking for any of the defendants’ names. It seems to us to be difficult to justify this in the public’s interest.’