The European Court of Justice has recently ruled in favour of a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez , in a privacy case against the internet search giant Google. The ECJ contended that Mario has the “right to be forgotten” and ordered Google to remove all the links related to him on their search index. This ruling has snowballed into a debate between right to privacy and freedom of information.
What is “right to be forgotten”?
The current European Union Data Protection Directive dictates data controllers, such as Google, are required to delete information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” if they receive a request for removal of such data.
How is it related to the Google v Gonzalez case?
Google search results for Mario Gonzalez contained links to an old 1998 Spanish news clipping about a government auction to recover the debts he owed. He wanted the story to be expunged, both from the news website and Google, as it is no longer relevant to his current financial status.
In 2010, the Spanish Data Protection agency ordered Google to remove the links related to Gonzalez on its website, but did not direct the news website to do the same since media companies are protected by the EU Data Protection Directive.
Google challenged the directive and, recently, lost the case in the ECJ.
How to permanently erase your Google footprint?
The ECJ ruling has further ramifications for Google. Individuals can now request Google to take down personal data from its search index. Google will evaluate the merits of the request and act accordingly. If Google does not concede to the request, then the individual “may bring the matter before the supervisory authority or the judicial authority”.
Has Mario Gonzalez really won the case?
He did win the court case; however, he ultimately lost the battle to supress information about his financial history. He is a classic case of what is known as the Streisand effect (American celebrity Babra Streisand failed to take down pictures of her vacation home). In a bid to delete a small piece of information that was published 16 years ago, Gonzalez ultimately paid the penalty of winning the case as his story was carried by some of the biggest media publications in the world.
So who would want the right to be forgotten?
1) Celebrities who don’t want embarrassing images from their past to be found by others.
2) Offenders who have spent less than six months in jail.
3) Asylum seekers who don’t want to be traced by people from their home country.
4) Domestic violence victims who want to be remain hidden from violent ex-partners.
5) Graduates who don’t want employers to see private images of their drunken night outs.
What do the experts say about the ruling?
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said that if you do something you don’t want anyone to know about, maybe you should not be doing it in the first place.
Founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales tweeted, “When will a European court demand that Wikipedia censor an article with truthful information because an individual doesn’t like it?”
Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor at City University, New York, tweeted: “EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ is a blow against free speech.”