Google is embroiled in a legal battle which has reignited discussions surrounding the so-called “right to be forgotten” in relation to previous convictions.
The “right to be forgotten” is a legal precedent set by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014, following a case brought by Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez, asking Google to remove information about his financial history.
The outcome of that ruling is that an internet search engine must consider requests from individuals to remove links to freely accessible web pages resulting from a search on their name. Grounds for removal include cases where the search result(s) “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive in the light of the time that had elapsed.” If the search engine rejects the request, the individual may ask relevant authorities to consider the case. Under certain conditions, the search engine may be ordered to remove the links from search results.
The decision was claimed as a so-called “right to be forgotten”, although the Court did not explicitly grant such a right, relying instead on the Claimant’s rights deriving from Article 7 (respect for private and family life) and Article 8 (protection of personal data) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. This resulted in numerous requests to Google, who have received requests to remove at least 2.4 million links from search results since this decision was made.
The current case being heard by the High Court, relates to a businessman who made a ‘right to be forgotten’ request to Google to remove search results which relate to his criminal conviction. Google refused to remove the two links as requested, and his quest has now reached the Courts, whereby he has lodged a legal bid to remove the results. Google (or rather, Google’s legal team) claim that this is the first case of this nature, and that the Courts should not be allowed to rewrite history.
The Claimant was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s and wants Google to remove results that refer to his case, including pages published by a national newspaper because the presence of the articles causes him “distress and upset”.
Search engines can reject applications made by individuals if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy. Google’s response to the claim is that the “right to be forgotten” ruling was “not a right to rewrite history or … tailor your past if that’s what this claimant would like to use it for”. It is claimed that the business malpractice that gave rise to the Claimant’s conviction was “serious and sustained” and that he had portrayed himself as a “respected businessman” with a successful career on social media and in a series of blog posts which Google deems to create a “false picture” and so if his right to be forgotten claim succeeds, he would continue to “mislead”.
The Claimant has pointed out that before anyone meets a new person these days, they Google them; that many people engage in misdeeds when they are young, but to constantly bring these misdeeds to the attention of others with have a “permanent negative effect”, preventing offenders going on to lead a normal life after rehabilitation.
The General Data Protection Regulation, a sweeping change of EU data rules, is due to come into force in May and aims to extend the law to make it easier for citizens to have content removed.
The High Court case is expected to last 5 days, and another “right to be forgotten” claim against Google is to be heard by the High Court next month. The person in that case was convicted of conspiracy to intercept communications over a decade ago.
This case will be watched closely by those with previous convictions which they are keen to forget.
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