The ECJ (Court of Justice of the European Union) ruled today that people should be allowed to erase records on web search engines which contain outdated information about themselves. The “right to be forgotten” is what this right is called, and it was proposed by the European Union in 2012. Specifically, an individual should have the right to request information that is irrelevant and/or outdated to be removed from company’s servers and, subsequently, from public access via search engines like Google or Bing.
The court said that it observes that even the processing of accurate data about someone or something can become outdated and/or irrelevant over time, and that if an individual finds that there is information which is inappropriate, then they have the right to request that the information be reviewed to be taken down from web search engines. If the case is found that information about the individual is as the individual asserted, then the web pages containing that information must be removed from the list of results.
The issue was introduced by Spanish man Mario Costeja Gonzalez. His name returned 16-year-old news articles in connection with his sales of properties while experiencing financial troubles. Gonzalez wanted the information to be removed from web search engines, which prompted the ECJ to review -and possibly amend- their protocol on unwanted information on the web.
David Streitfeld from The New York Times stated that the ruling rejects the long standing notions about the free flow of information on the Internet. Streitfeld also asserts that the decision underlines the power of web search engines to retrieve controversial information, and puts strict limits on their ability to do so. The court said that search engines must play an “active” role in data controlling instead of being “dumb pipes.”
The ruling by the European Court allowing people to erase records on web search engines has garnered criticism. Streitfeld stated that the ruling could lead to search results becoming as complimentary as a Facebook profile or an About.me page. A representative from Google stated they are disappointed with the decision. The representative said that the ruling is bad news for search engines and publishers in general, and that they are very surprised that it deviates so far from the Advocate General’s opinion about the consequences and warnings spelled out. The representative concluded that they now need to take time to analyze the implications.
Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard computer science and law professor, shared his opinions on the ruling from the European Court allowing people to erase records on web search engines; stating that he feels the ruling to be a bad solution to a real problem. Zittrain said that it is a very legitimate concern that everything is on everyone’s permanent record. He went on to describe that a ruling like this in the United States would clash against the First Amendment, although it might be unethical for pictures of an individual intoxicated or partying to still haunt them 30 years after. The decision in Europe cannot be appealed.
By Andres Loubriel