Last month in the landmark "right to be forgotten" ruling, Europe's highest court decided that European citizens now have the right to request that search engines remove links containing certain types of personal and sensitive material. Since then, Google has gotten over 41,000 requests for information removal — many from people with criminal pasts.
Through "right to be forgotten," the only information that merits removal are the links that are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant." Unfortunately, what's relevant and what isn't seems entirely objective. According to The Guardian, Google has received requests from convicted murderers, sex offenders and politicians with corrupt pasts. Approximately 12% of the requests come from people in connection to child pornography arrests.
Google is not legally required to comply with every request, and the company has announced plans to put flags on the pages where links have been deleted to indicate censorship. As for what links stay and what links go, the company has set up an advisory committee "to issue recommendations about where the boundaries of the public interest lie in the requests."
"Right to be forgotten" isn't without its critics. Wikipedia founder (and Google advisory committee member) Jimmy Wales offered:
"I think the decision 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 simply 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."
Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsburg is concerned with the way Google will be allowed to censor without any government oversight, saying, "We remain deeply concerned about a ruling that opens the door to a censoring of the past without any proper checks and balances."
This is a complicated issue and it will be interesting (and perhaps a little frightening) to see how it develops.
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