Battle Over “Right to Be Forgotten” Heats Up Globally

July 31, 2015

It has been a little over a year since the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg established the “Right to be Forgotten” online in a groundbreaking and disturbing decision. The ruling mandated Google to take down data that are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in light of the time that has elapsed.” While it was not initially clear how far the Right to Be Forgotten would be attempted to be extended, Google is now under pressure to apply the ruling worldwide. Yesterday, Google rejected a request from the French government to remove links not just from all European search results but also from all versions globally to carry out the Right to Be Forgotten mandate.

Since the initial European ruling in 2014, Google has evaluated and processed more than a quarter of a million requests to delist links to more than one million individual European web pages. However, Google now makes it very clear that while the Right to Be Forgotten may be the law in Europe, Google does not believe this mandate is legitimate globally. Google states, “If the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL)’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

At the same time, in the U.S., the debate has taken the form of a petition to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demanding that the Right to Be Forgotten be enforced here. Earlier this month, Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint strongly urging the FTC to require Google “to honor” consideration of removal requests to links to information that its users believe are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.” Consumer Watchdog claims that Google’s refusal to do so “…while holding itself out to be concerned about users’ privacy is both unfair and deceptive, violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

ANA believes this view is legally baseless. Today we sent a letter to the FTC explaining why the Commission should immediately dismiss Consumer Watchdog’s complaint. The letter explains that allowing Right to Be Forgotten policies to be enforced in the U.S. would cause serious and undue harm to the public’s right to determine for itself what is important and relevant information. Furthermore, it would seriously undermine free expression under the First Amendment.

Hopefully, moving forward these issues can be resolved quickly. The Right to Be Forgotten does not translate well from Europe to the U.S. or to other areas of the globe. Regulators should be acutely cautious of adapting these extremely misguided policies that threaten bedrock speech freedoms of our society.

You must be logged in to submit a comment.