Latest update: Right to be forgotten

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On 18 August, the Information Commissioner’s Office served an enforcement notice on Google Inc. in the latest chapter of the ‘right to be forgotten’ saga.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ rules stem from the European Court of Justice’s 2014 ruling that search engines must remove links to webpages displayed as a result of a search of a person’s name which contain content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”. A search engine provider can refuse to remove links if it is in the public interest for the information to be known.

As a result of this ruling, Google agreed to remove links to historical news coverage of a certain individual’s minor criminal offence which appeared when that person’s name was entered into Google’s search engine. As the offence had been committed close to a decade ago, Google agreed that it was no longer relevant.

Unfortunately, the very act of removing these links generated a certain amount of news coverage. This resulted in the creation of new ‘hits’ when that person’s name was entered into Google search which repeated the details of the historical offence. Unsurprisingly, the individual in question argued that these later links should also be removed.

According to the ICO’s enforcement notice, Google refused the individual’s request on the grounds that the new search links were “still relevant and in the public interest” as they related to “an essential part of a recent news story relating to a matter of significant public importance”. However, the ICO did not agree with this argument and has now ruled that Google must remove these new links from the search results within 35 days.

ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said that “Google was right, in its original decision, to accept that search results relating to the complainant’s historic conviction were no longer relevant and were having a negative impact on privacy. It is wrong of them to now refuse to remove newer links that reveal the same details and have the same negative impact.”

He went on to say that “we understand that links being removed as a result of [the right to be forgotten] ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.”

What is clear is that negative search engine results can have very unpleasant consequences for an individual; for example missing out on job opportunities or having to face embarrassing questions from friends or loved ones. This will seem particularly unfair where the information coming up against a search of your name is false, misleading or simply very old. If you find yourself in this position, it is important to remember that you do have a right to request that these search results are deleted.

 


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