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article imageThree years on: Google discusses the right to be forgotten

By James Walker     May 15, 2017 in Technology
Google has detailed its ongoing work to respond to right to be forgotten requests from EU citizens after the controversial concept was made law three years ago today. The company is continuing to actively protest proposed evolutions of the ruling.
The right to be forgotten became law across the EU in May 2014, guaranteeing citizens that they can ask web companies to delist search results containing their data. The idea is designed to let people remove sensitive information about themselves from the public view.
For companies like Google, complying with this is far from simple. In the three years since the right to be forgotten was introduced, the company has been sent 720,000 requests urging it to remove links to webpages. For each one, it has been forced to decide whether to delete the data from its search results or risk prolonging the process by declining the request.
In a blog post today, Google explained the difficulties it encounters when calculating a balance between protecting sensitive personal details and keeping content that's in the public interest freely available. The right to be forgotten is meant to protect individuals but it also has to consider lawfully published journalism that could negatively portray a person. In this instance, it falls on the search providers to decide how to proceed.
In some cases, Google's decision doesn't sit well with the individual who made the request. It cited a high-profile case set to come before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) later this year that originated during 2016. When Google refused to delist links to webpages about four individuals, they asked the French data protection regulator to review the company's conclusion.
The regulator found in Google's favour and upheld its original verdict. Still dissatisfied, the individuals escalated the case to the French Supreme Administrative Court, which in turn referred it to the CJEU. The CJEU is now tasked with deciding whether to prioritise the protection of personal data or the world's right to access information in the public interest.
"Requiring automatic delisting from search engines, without any public interest balancing test, risks creating a dangerous loophole," said Google. "Such a loophole would enable anyone to demand removal of links that should remain up in the public interest, simply by claiming they contain some element of sensitive personal data."
Google is also preparing to present its view on another issue with the right to be forgotten. In the coming months, the French Conseil d'Etat will debate whether the right should be extended beyond Europe. If it's decided that territorial boundaries should be ignored, Google will be required to delist removed links from its worldwide search engine, instead of just the individual's country of origin.
The company said that this would set a "grave precedent" in which countries could wrangle right to be forgotten laws to hide search links for their citizens from other regions of the world. This would risk a global legal crisis in which countries could extend their own rules on lawful content into the confines of another.
As the right to be forgotten turns three years old, it's clear the bill is still a contentious and developing issue. In the months after its introduction, the law affected legitimate journalism from respected sites and caused turmoil at search providers unable to handle a flood of requests.
While Europe pushes for even tighter controls, the concept is also gaining traction in other areas of the world. In March, a right to be forgotten proposal in New York was described as "unconstitutional" and a form of censorship as it would allow individuals to request the removal of statements about others.
More about Google, right to be forgotten, Search, Eu, Data
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