A French court is trying to apply a Right-To-Be-Forgotten decision to links worldwide, and Google is being fined 1,000 Euros a day for not removing the links in question. What is the Right-To-Be-Forgotten and why won’t Google apply it worldwide?
The EU argues that old data – whether it is incorrect, or just irrelevant – should be removed from search results if the person involves asks for this. This makes sense, as old news can damage someone’s reputation unnecessarily. Imagine if you made a mistake at 18 – perhaps a drunken petty crime – and at 40 you can’t get a job because any potential employer searching your name gets the wrong impression of you. Surely in this case it’s only fair to have the post removed? That’s what the EU would argue.
The current story revolves around the removal of one such link from search results in France – however, Google has not removed the link from Google.com. The French court is now fining Google because it refuses to remove the link globally. Whilst it makes perfect sense legally for the French court to seek removal of content in France and in the EU, the problems (for the court, at least) arise in attempting to impose the law elsewhere.
One problem lies in the balance between freedom of expression and the right to be forgotten – if you can get information about you removed at will then you might be encroaching on someone else’s freedom of expression. Not only that, but this could be extended to the removal of important information because of censorship in your country. To clarify this – imagine if some atrocity happened in the world and the country(s) involved banned the publication of material related to it… would it be ok to let them have it removed world-wide? Most would probably say no. This example, though extreme, does appear to highlight how this issue does in fact go beyond how it first appears.
So where do we draw the line?
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