Right to be forgotten should be limited to Europe, say experts

6 Feb 2015

An expert panel set up by internet search giant Google to examine the ‘right to be forgotten’ issue has recommended that the privacy ruling be limited to Europe only.

Earlier last year, the ‘right to be forgotten’ found a precedent in European law when the Court of Justice of the European Union, in the case of Google Spain v AEPD and Mario Costeja González, found that individuals have the right to ask search engines, such as Google, to remove certain results about them.

In November, the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which is made up of representatives of national data protection authorities from across the EU, called for ‘effective and complete’ protection under the ‘right to be forgotten’ and said that limiting delisting of search results to EU domains is not enough.

In other words they want the ‘right to be forgotten’ to be a global rule.

In October, Google revealed that after six months it received 144,954 ‘right to be forgotten’ requests and some 497,695 URLs had been evaluated for removal. Google said it agreed to one-third of these requests while rejecting two-thirds of the requests.

Keep ‘right to be forgotten’ local

The council in its recommendations said it understands that more than 95pc of all queries originating in Europe are on local versions of the search engines.

“Given this background, we believe that delistings applied to the European versions of search will, as a general rule, protect the rights of the data subject adequately in the current state of affairs and technology.”

On the issue of users finding ways to circumvent ‘right to be forgotten’ searches by going to different jurisdictions, the panel cautioned about the heavy hand of censorship.

“The council heard evidence about the technical possibility to prevent internet users in Europe from accessing search results that have been delisted under European law. The council has concerns about the precedent set by such measures, particularly if repressive regimes point to such a precedent in an effort to ‘lock’ their users into heavily censored versions of search results.

“It is also unclear whether such measures would be meaningfully more effective than Google’s existing model, given the widespread availability of tools to circumvent such blocks.

“The council supports effective measures to protect the rights of data subjects. Given concerns of proportionality and practical effectiveness, it concludes that removal from nationally directed versions of Google’s search services within the EU is the appropriate means to implement the ruling at this stage.”

A flawed principle

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling is deeply flawed.

“I completely oppose the legal situation in which a commercial company is forced to become the judge of our most fundamental rights of expression and privacy, without allowing any appropriate procedure for appeal by publishers whose works are being suppressed. The European Parliament needs to immediately amend the law to provide for appropriate judicial oversight, and with strengthened protections for freedom of expression.

“Until this time, the recommendations to Google contained in this report are deeply flawed due to the law itself being deeply flawed,” Wales said.

The eight person panel included: Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics at the University of Oxford; Sylvie Kauffman, editorial director of Le Monde; Lidia Kolucka-Zuk, director of the Warsaw-based Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe; Frank La Rue, human rights negotiator and political analyst; José-Luis Piñar, former director of the Spanish Data Protection Agency; German politician Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger; Peggy Valcke, research professor at KU Leuven in Belgium; and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Censorship image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years