In an unprecedented move with far-reaching consequences, the highest court in Europe ruled that Google must remove links when requested. The ruling entitled “the right to be forgotten” stems from a case that goes back to 2009, when Spanish lawyer, Mario Costeja, filed an objection to the search results that were returned when his name was entered in Google’s search engine with a query. The results displayed links to legal notices in an online newspaper that he said were no longer relevant. The European court essentially ruled that individuals have a right to influence what can be learned about them through Web searches on the Internet. The ruling can be seen as a partial rejecting of the long-established practice of the free flow of information, and adds some discredit to the notion of neutrality.
As it currently stands, individuals who do not like the information to which their names are associated on the web are left with the arduous task of contacting the publisher of the site and asking the information be removed, and it was left to the site publisher to decide whether to comply. The other option may have been a costly legal recourse, but with the European court ruling, it is now as simple as asking the referring links.
Scholars and law professors are expressing differing opinions on the consequences of the ruling, which many say are corrupting, while others claim it purifies. There are also some ensuing claims that the search results were never really neutral, and the ruling move in the right direction, given the increasing concerns that individuals may have about their right to privacy.
The idea that the internet never forgets, and all published information may in fact, last forever, may be troubling to many users, who may prefer the impermanence of the pre-digital era. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet governance at the Internet Institute in Oxford, believes that users may prefer the option of not having actions committed decades ago, being currently displayed.
The court ruled that, the final decision on whether the links should be removed will rest with European privacy officials, and there was no objective set, except to state that the links should be relevant. It may be left to the officials to determine what is relevant, but at the same time it was mentioned that Google should lean to the side of caution and remove all requested links.
The burden to remove all links when requested in Europe falls largely on Google, who appeared to be stunned by the decision. The response by the company was that time was needed to study the decision, which however, is final and now mandated without appeal. The ruling asserts that companies such as Google are obliged to remove associated links, unless there may be extenuating reasons that dictate that they should not be removed, as in the case of the public life of the subject. A strange twist exempts the original publisher of the information from deleting it, as the courts argue that website information is harder to find than the links being shown in the search engine such as Google.
The judgment by the European court, that requires Google to remove all links when requested, appears to be a reversal of a preliminary victory that the company had won in June of 2013, when Niilo Jaaskinen, a court adviser implied the company did not need to remove links.
Written By Dale Davidson