According to a new survey by IT security reviews company, Software Advice, 61 percent of Americans believe the EU Court of Justice decision regarding the right to be forgotten on the internet is necessary in some form. Although the results were mixed as to what the qualifications should be if a similar law were enacted in the US, Americans clearly swayed towards being granted this right despite the implications and challenges of enforcing such a law.
Software Advice surveyed 500 US adults in an internet questionnaire to find out more about American attitudes regarding the decision. The results are particularly interesting since public opinion could shape US laws going forward. Cloud and hosting providers will have to comply with new legislation as these types of laws evolve. The EU decision so far has had a lot of complications and unintended consequences.
The European Court of Justice ruling in May that affects how search engines operate in Europe. The “right to be forgotten” gives people the right to request old information be removed from search engines. The ruling only affects search results, the original link would not be removed or altered.
The court decision allows individuals to request search engines remove links containing incorrect or outdated information about them when searched by name. The ruling left plenty of room for interpretation saying that there needs to be a balance between public interest and the impact that such information can have on people’s lives.
“The reason I decided to do it is I’m a European living in Texas and I was quite started [about the new law] I think I saw this in the Guardian when they passed the law in the EU and I was really taken aback by it because I thought, well, I can understand the motivation why people might want to be forgotten but there are a lot of unintended consequences,” said Daniel Humphries, the market research associate at Software Advice who conducted the survey in a WHIR interview. “So that’s basically why I decided to do it, to gauge a general [US] feeling towards this kind of idea.”
The survey also asked whether people agreed with the idea that misleading or damaging information on the internet is detrimental to an individual. Despite 61 percent agreeing that there should be a law giving individuals this right to be forgotten, most of the respondents didn’t agree with the idea that internet information could be detrimental; less than half strongly or somewhat agreed.
According to the article, “This suggests that, for many people, the appeal of the law is not even based on fears of the negative consequences of search results—but rather, is based on a belief in the individual’s right to privacy.”
Since the EU ruling gave no real guidance as to how these requests for removal be handled, companies such as Google and Microsoft have devised their own methods for processing requests. In June Google released an online request site along with a board responsible for vetting the validity of the requests. Microsoft followed suit in July.
Rendering this decision with no guidelines as to how it should be implemented has caused plenty of logistical problems in Europe, including complaints to various authorities. “During the summer of 2014, data protection authorities in the EU have received complaints as a result of search engines’ refusals to de-list complainants from their results,” a WP29 statement said. “This illustrates that the ruling has addressed a genuine demand for data protection from data subjects.”
Now that there is a law on the books regarding an individual’s right to privacy there will no doubt be other cases to follow, possibly with different iterations based on the existing laws of a given county.
A limited right to be forgotten type law was recently enacted in California giving minors certain rights as part of its new California Online Privacy Protection act that goes into effect January 1, 2015. It will be interesting to see if California’s choice will spread to other states given the US First Amendment regarding freedom of speech.
“To be honest, I’m kind of surprised. Maybe there is just this overwhelming assumption it could never happen here but also maybe slightly abstract because there are no laws on the books here except maybe California where they have a version of this law for minors. I guess the other thing that made me think of doing this is that after the European law passed, I think in Argentina they already have this law, also in Hong Kong they were pushing for this law and I think there were some vague discussions in Canada,” said Humphries.
“It’s kind of an idea that once it was brokered, or voiced or someone took a stand on it, suddenly other countries were. Because the internet is global it has international ramifications. It is pretty easy to get around this law in Eruope, you can just go to google.com and do the searches [rather than local google] so even in Europe they’re not too pleased that it’s so easy fo find a work around. It does have international ramifications and I just thought it would be very interesting poll Americans on it.”
Another thing that emerged from this poll was the the possible difference between eastern and western Europe. Many Europeans support the right to be forgotten but there are cultural differences as to whether people fall on the side of an individuals right to privacy or more on the side of the public’s right to know.
“When I was interviewing people for the write up and analysis of the poll results, I interviewed a few people from eastern Europe but that had come to the states to develop tech businesses, high flying tech experts, but they had grown up in eastern Europe under communism. There was one guy from Belarus, one from Czechoslovakia and they were bitterly against it,” Humphries said. “So they’re Europeans but they viewed it as, you know that they came from cultures where it was difficult to know the truth about their own history so they were really opposed to this law and strongly opposed to it…I suspect if someone tried to pass this law here, the big overarching law in the fashion of European law, then as the details emerged of what it would mean I think you would get a strong resistance.”