The right to be forgotten. Free speech vs privacy

A European court has decided that Google must amend some of its search results to allow people the “right to be forgotten”.  The ruling on a case brought by a Spanish man called Mario Costeja Gonzalez stated that links to “irrelevant” and outdated data should be erased on request.

googleMr Gonzalez was unhappy that details of his financial difficulties and the forced sale of his house were the most prominent results when his name was searched. Let’s leave aside the fact that this case will generate huge amounts of attention to the fact that he had money worries and a reposition, it also has huge implications of freedom of speech and privacy.

As far as I can see this ruling is not only unenforceable, but deep misguided. The link that Mr Gonzalez objected to led to a legal announcement, a document that is in the public domain, it is reporting facts that Mr Gonzalez does not dispute. While the link may be embarrassing or inconvenient it is accurate and truthful, we are on a very slippery slope when the reporting of the truth gets banned. Also this is a European ruling and with the USA’s constitutional protection of freedom of speech it could never be replicated there. This means that Google could link to the offending document from the States even if they can’t in Europe.

There are plenty of stories about people losing jobs or having offers withdrawn because of youthful indiscretions captured and displayed on-line and they may wish that those things could be expunged from the web. But, as I tell my children, once its up there you can never get rid of it. I think that society will become more pragmatic and forgiving about stuff that we’ve said or done in our pasts, either that or we’ll only be able to employ people who were really dull children. Having an army of latter day Winston Smiths eradicating elements of our digital pasts isn’t the answer.

So my take on this is that the ruling is both undesirable and Luddite. What do you think.


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