The Implications of the EU 'Right to Be Forgotten' Law on Web Searches

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2015-08-07
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    1 - The Implications of the EU 'Right to Be Forgotten' Law on Web Searches
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    The Implications of the EU 'Right to Be Forgotten' Law on Web Searches

    Since 2013, the Right to Be Forgotten has lived overseas with little chance of coming to the U.S. However, some European officials are looking to change this.
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    2 - When Did the Right to Be Forgotten Movement Start?
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    When Did the Right to Be Forgotten Movement Start?

    The issue of Right to Be Forgotten in Europe began in earnest in 2013 after a Danish lawyer living in Paris appealed to Google to have links allegedly hurting his character and his business taken down from its search engine. After Google complied with the request, the issue took off and, by last year, a European court ruled that people across the EU had the right to have links removed from search engines under certain conditions.
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    3 - How Is 'Right to Be Forgotten' Defined?
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    How Is 'Right to Be Forgotten' Defined?

    The conditions that govern Right to Be Forgotten are somewhat generic, making them open to interpretation. However, in general, Right to Be Forgotten allows anyone in the EU to petition search engines to remove links related to content that is either no longer relevant or inaccurate and potentially damaging to an individual's name and character. The ultimate goal is to prevent people from being stigmatized by something that may have happened long ago or for criminal charges of which they have been accused but never found guilty.
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    4 - It Removes Links, Not Access
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    It Removes Links, Not Access

    There's a gaping hole in Right to Be Forgotten's applicability: It only requires that search engines remove links from their results. So, if a site has an accusation about a person, Google isn't taking the actual Web page down, but is instead removing its visibility on its own search results. There's also a chance that while users may find several links related to a particular topic, they may miss others, making their search efforts less complete than they would be otherwise.
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    5 - Right Now, It's Country-Specific
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    Right Now, It's Country-Specific

    The other trouble for Right to Be Forgotten is that it's domain-specific. So, if a person in France wants a link removed from Google, he or she shouldn't expect that link to be removed from any of the other Google domains around the world, including dot-com, which handles most of the company's queries. Domain-specific removals have become a major sticking point for regulators around the world.
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    6 - Search Engines Are Not Required to Comply Every Time
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    Search Engines Are Not Required to Comply Every Time

    Although search engines are encouraged to comply with requests, they're not automatically required to do so. Under the Right to Be Forgotten law, search engines may investigate whether a request falls under the regulation. If it does, they're compelled to take the item down. If not, search engines do not need to take a link down simply because someone asked.
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    7 - Other Search Engines Have to Comply
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    Other Search Engines Have to Comply

    While French regulators have increasingly targeted Google, it's not the only company that must comply with Right to Be Forgotten rules. All search engines, including small, local search engines and global alternatives like Microsoft Bing and Yahoo must also comply with valid Right to Be Forgotten requests. It's Google, however, that receives the most petitions, due in large part to its dominance in the European search space.
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    8 - Google Makes the Freedom of Information Argument
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    Google Makes the Freedom of Information Argument

    Google has said time and again that freedom is only as solid as the least-free country in the world. The company has used the argument to bolster its belief that Right to Be Forgotten policies stand against individual liberty and may go against the Bill of Rights in the United States. Google firmly believes that any and all links can—and should—be put on the Internet without government or company interference. It's a controversial point, but one the search giant stands by.
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    9 - The Policy Is a Band-Aid on a Broad Problem
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    The Policy Is a Band-Aid on a Broad Problem

    The trouble with Right to Be Forgotten policies is that they may only be trying to treat a major issue with a small Band-Aid. The Right to Be Forgotten was adopted as a way to try to give people back lost dignity or to help them rebuild their reputations. But all it really does is make it harder to find Web links to specific topics. Since some folks only request that Google take down links and not other search engines, users can search on other sites and find the same embarrassing information. But this information doesn't just exist on the Web. The same facts can be found in public records, print publications and in many other sources. The only difference is that search engines have made it easier to discover and compile information on virtually every person alive today.
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    10 - Search Engines Question Why They're Being Singled Out
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    Search Engines Question Why They're Being Singled Out

    Google, Microsoft and others have all asked regulators why they are being forced to be the ultimate arbiters in the validity of a person's request. They've argued that individuals should go to news outlets or any other site hosting the troubling content and ask them to remove it. Going after a search engine, they say, doesn't wipe the content from the Web; it only wastes time and ultimately increases censorship on the Internet.
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    11 - Don't Expect Similar Legislation in the U.S. Any Time Soon
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    Don't Expect Similar Legislation in the U.S. Any Time Soon

    It's possible that French regulators will have their way and that Web links barred by Right to be Forgotten petitions will be removed from Google.com domains around the world, thereby preventing Americans from having unfettered access to once-public information. However, it's extremely unlikely that similar legislation will be passed in the United States any time soon. There are serious doubts whether such a law would ever survive a constitutional review. To put an extra nail in the coffin, several studies have shown there is no support among lawmakers and voters for a U.S. Right to Be Forgotten law.
 

The "Right to Be Forgotten" law being enforced by the European Union has received attention in recent weeks as Google and EU regulators wrangle over how broadly the law should apply. But this legal battle isn't limited to Google. Other search companies are watching the situation carefully. And now the question has risen whether the law should be enforced beyond the EU's border. The Right to Be Forgotten law gives Europeans living in the EU the right to have Web links about them removed from search engines that they assert unfairly hurt their character or are no longer relevant. Search companies have bristled at the law but have complied. And now, some in France are calling on search companies to remove results not only in their own countries but also around the world. If the concept becomes law, it could have profound implications not only on worldwide markets, but also in the United States, where the likes of Google and Microsoft Bing see the bulk of their search volume. Since 2013, Right to Be Forgotten has lived overseas with little chance of it coming stateside. Now, the EU's position could raise questions for search companies and legal authorities in the United States and beyond. Read on to learn more about the implications of the EU's Right to Be Forgotten policy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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