‘Right to be forgotten’ – a year after Costeja

August 1, 2015

On 30 July 2015, Google Policy Europe ‘respectfully disagreed’ with French privacy watchdog ‘Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL)’ which had formally notified the company to globally implement the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling (Google Spain v AEPD and Mario Costeja González). Google will continue to abide by the ruling yet apply it only within the European Union.

Since the landmark Costeja decision in 2014, EU citizens have the right to request search engines such as Google to remove links to personal information, which is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive, and not in the public interest. The requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, which includes a balancing of the individual’s privacy interests, the sensitivity of the information and the public’s interest, in addition to consideration of freedom of expression of the media.

In its blog post, Google criticised the CNIL’s approach to regulation, stating that if the company were to embrace it, “we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

Regardless of jurisdiction, the idea of the ‘right to be forgotten’ may resonate with individuals who would like to prevent that extremely embarrassing twitter rage or Facebook blunder from haunting them forever on the Internet. However, the Costeja decision concerns de-linking only. The actual post or story itself would not be removed, just the link in search results.

The same week that Google declined to apply Costeja globally, crossbench peer Baroness Beeban Kidron of iRights coalition proposed the implementation of something that goes further: an Internet delete button.

The proposal, if ever accepted by the UK government oreventechnically possible, differs from the ‘right to be forgotten’ function. iRights “believes children and young people should have the unqualified right, on every platform or service, to fully remove data and content they have created.” iRights’ proposals symbolise the continuing public demand for privacy online, especially to protect the most vulnerable.

The public’s desire for privacy online is growing. Many are adapting their use of search engines and social platforms to protect their privacy. This desire is being addressed by search engines likeDuckDuckGo, Google (which allows for incognito searching) and Tor. Apps that younger generations in particular have embraced like Snapchat, Yik Yak and Whisper, also claim to retain one’s privacy through anonymity.

Such measures may protect an individual’s privacy when using the Internet but do not offer protection for information once published. Until an Internet delete button or similar proposals are accepted, the ‘right to be forgotten’ is the only way for an individual to request personal information to be delinked in an online search. And that right, unlike the proliferation of the Internet, remains limited by jurisdictional boundaries.

Co-authored by intern Adriana Rodriguez and JWSS

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