‘Right to be forgotten’ is unworkable say UK Peers

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

August 4, 2014

Back in May the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rocked the in tech community and the Continent with its now famous ’right to be forgotten’ ruling. Since then the reverberations have been felt not only in Europe but in other quarters of the world who fear judicial meddling in private matters. By now we all are well aware of Spanish citizen and attorney Mario Costeja González and his successful challenge of a Google search linking him to a past debt discretion which appears on the search engine. Since then a flurry of controversy over the ruling has arisen including more than 75,000 requests from EU citizens to remove information per the ruling.

We reported news about the ruling as well as covering its fallout extensively in these pages. Debate raged as to who was the victor here. Free speech and privacy protection? Or censorship through the denial of public access to information? Not to mention the damage possibly afflicting news outlets who will lose the Google source as a primary means of information- a fear expressed by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

The latest entity to weigh in on the controversy is the UK House of Lords. It characterizes the ECJ ruling as simply unworkable, condemning regulations being drawn up by the European Commission. Their ire was made apparent by the House of Lords home affairs health and education EU sub-committee report. It essentially opines that search engines should not be made responsible for the content of the internet- that this is too great a burden to be borne by a private company.

They point out that the EU’s Data Protection Directive (1995) on which the latest ECJ ruling was based predated Google’s founding by some three years and thus could not possibly consider the impact on a single private firm.

The committee’s chair, Lady Prashar, said:

’ It is crystal clear that neither the 1995 directive nor the (ECJ’s) interpretation of it reflects the incredible advancement in technology that we see today, over 20 years since the directive was drafted. We believe that the judgement of the court is unworkable for two main reasons. Firstly, it does not take into account the effect the ruling will have on smaller search engines which, unlike Google, are unlikely to have the resources to process the thousands of removal requests they are likely to receive.

Secondly, we also believe that it is wrong in principle to leave to search engines themselves the task of deciding whether to delete information or not, based on vague, ambiguous and unhelpful criteria, and we heard from witnesses how uncomfortable they are with the idea of a commercial company sitting in judgement on issues like that.’

The HoL would be more comfortable, according to committee findings, to have search engines classified as data controllers rather than ’owners” of the information they possess. And they are opposed to individuals having the right to have information removed simply because they don’t like what appears in the link.

And so the debate continues as it is likely to until there is any clarification of the ruling. It would be interesting to see where you stand on the issue. What do you feel about the ruling as it is playing out? Should a private company such as Google be the final arbiter in determining what should stay and what should go? Or should some public, government entity intervene and impose oversight as Germany was mulling in June? We’ll keep you posted on developments- of that you can be certain

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