By Jacob Collins |Staff Writer|
A European court case may make a lasting impact on the internet by offering a way for individuals who have been unjustly accused or maligned to petition search engines to stop linking their name to disparaging material.
The so-called “right to be forgotten” allows people to petition search engines like Google to remove links to articles online that are no longer considered relevant to that person’s current life.
However, if a matter is still of public interest, the request may be denied.
There have been strong reactions to the ruling on both sides.
Eric Posner wrote in a Slate article, “The European “right to be forgotten” is the most important right you’ve never heard of.”
The New York Times editorial board stated, “lawmakers should not create a right so powerful that it could limit press freedoms or allow individuals to demand that lawful information in a news archive be hidden.”
When a request has been approved by Google, it is “de-linked” from searches to that individual’s name.
However, the articles in question are still searchable if the individuals name is not in the search. When links are removed, the webmaster of that site is notified as to the reason of the removal.
To request a link be taken down, an individual must fill out a form on Google’s website with their personal information, a document to prove their identity, the link in question and an explanation as to why they wish to be removed.
If the request is denied, there is an option to appeal with a local data protection authority, according to Google’s FAQ.
In order to determine what should or should not be removed, Google has started a tour through Europe consisting of seven town hall meetings with an ethics counsel that is composed of the Google CEO Eric Schmidt, an ethics philosopher from Oxford, Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia and a former justice minister from Germany.
Google hopes to settle issues of what is “appropriate” for de-linking.
There is concern that this process could be abused.
“Sometimes certain bits of information should be public knowledge. For example, a doctor that has botched medical procedures,” said Associate Professor Mihaela Popescu.
“But Google is now a gatekeeper for public information. There needs to be oversight, don’t just leave it to Google,” continued Popescu.
“I feel like [it] is bad because we lose history in those articles that are no longer able to be viewed. We learn from our past and if we cannot move forward from learning from our mistakes then everyone would be stuck,” said a student, Savannah Barras.
Google has received a large amount of requests to take down URLs, according to a transparency document that breaks down Google’s actions to comply with the court ruling.
In France alone, 17,500 requests have been made, involving around 58,000 URLs since July. However, only about 53 percent of URLs in all of Europe have been removed.
Google is still working to incorporate the court ruling into it’s European operations. Due to the massive amount of requests, there is a backlog as they must be handled on a case-by-case basis.