right to be forgotten

The right to be forgotten is the concept that individuals have the civil right to request that personal information be removed from the Internet.

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The right to be forgotten is the concept that individuals have the civil right to request that personal information be removed from the Internet.

In May 2014, a man from Spain asked Google to remove links to an old newspaper article about his previous bankruptcy, claiming there was no legitimate reason for the outdated information to remain accessible online.  The European Court of Justice ruled that under European law, search engines are data controllers so they must consider all requests to stop returning irrelevant or outdated information in search queries. According to the ruling, the Web pages that the query results in question point to can remain online and any link omissions on query returns will only occur when searches are made in Europe. In the wake of the ruling, Google began receiving thousands more requests to take down links.

While the right to be forgotten aims to support personal privacy, the concern is that it conflicts with the open nature of the Web and the free flow of information. The interests of one individual in removing information from the Web may conflict with the interests of another individual or group. While Google is not required to honor every request for information to be taken down, it seems clear that the popularity of the concept will inspire organizations to have a process in place for reviewing and following through on take-down requests.

Currently the General Data Protection Regulation ruling applies only in the European Union, but according to some research, Americans might be interested in a similar right in the U.S. in spite of concern from the opposition that removal of legally published and truthful information from the open Web infringes on First Amendment rights and smacks of censorship.

See also: European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, privacy impact statement, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), privacy plan, consumer privacy

This was first published in June 2014

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