The right to be forgotten

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.39.30 PMIn a recent decision the European Court of Justice determined that an individual within the EU can approach google and other similar large search engines to ‘remove certain search results found upon a search of their name’ (Zittrain). While the facts of the case have been laid out by various new sources, what is more significant are the underlying policy issues.

First, does the ‘right to individual privacy’ give a person the ‘right to erase information in the public domain’?  In this case the links that the Spanish national Mario Costeja González wanted removed, pointed to a 1998 story in the newspaper La Vanguardia’s website.  For example, if a library has an indexing system for old newspaper articles and an individual asks that a particular entry relating to him/her in the indexing system be removed, should that request be honored? Given that the article is public information, is it right to remove access to it? Second, with this new ruling, how will a search engine determine whether a request for removal of links is legitimate or not? In short will the search engine now have to perform “a balancing test of the interest in the person in her privacy versus the interest in the public at large finding the indexed Web page she wants removed” (Zittrain). 

Obviously there are opposing opinions regarding this decision. In my opinion the public has the right to access any information that is in the public domain. That being said, it is unclear at this time what the potential implications are for trade-commerce and businesses with operations in the EU.

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