Google is already receiving requests to remove links from its search results. Earlier this week the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines will have to honor requests to remove old information from search results.
However, the court did not make it clear under which instances removing the link was warranted. This goes against the ruling last June by Niilo Jaaskinen when he said that Google should not be responsible for content published by third parties.
The ruling left room for interpretation simply stating there needs to be a balance between public interest and the impact of the information on someone’s life. The court said an individual deserves the right to be forgotten when the link “…appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purpose for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.”
CNN reported that some of the requests to Google to remove links came from people that might have an interest in removing the information that is not in the spirit of the ruling. These include a politician with articles about his behavior in office, a doctor with bad reviews and a pedofile convicted of child pornography.
According to the Washington Post, Google’s UK branch received at least 35 requests with over half of them being convicted criminals. The BBC reported a man who killed his family is among the requests as well.
Google already receives requests to take down links to material that infringe on copyrights or sites that violate laws. However, these laws are generally more clear cut than the European ruling.
There is worry in the Internet community that this ruling impinges on free speech. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tweeted: “When will a European Court demand that Wikipedia censor an article with truthful information because an individual doesn’t like it?”
“The very notion of government imposing a statute of limitations on free speech rights is creepy. The rules associated with such a regime would be nightmarish, and they would undoubtedly set off a stampede of politicians and other powerful people trying to sanitize their pasts,” the editorial board at USA Today said.
Javier Ruiz, Policy Director for lobbyist Open Rights Group told to the Telegraph, “We need to take into account individuals’ right to privacy but if search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate content that is already in the public domain but not the content itself, it could lead to online censorship. This case has major implications for all kind of internet intermediaries, not just search engines.”
The EU External Freedom of Expression Policy was released Friday by WikiLeaks and could have future bearing on this issue. The introduction addresses some of the concerns facing the EU after this “right to be forgotten” ruling.
“Technological in information and communications have created new opportunities for individuals to disseminate information to a mass audience, and have had important impact on the participation and contribution of citizens in decisions making processes. These innovations have also brought new challenges. All human rights that exist offline, in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to privacy.”
Further in the guidelines addressing freedom of expression is the outline around the right access to information, which includes: “…the general right of the public to to have access of information of public interest…the right of individuals to request and receive information concerning themselves that that may affect their individual rights.”
It would seem that some further direction by the court is needed to enable companies to comply in such a way that balances an individual’s rights with the public’s right to information. In the meantime it is up to Google’s discretion whether to comply with requests to remove links.