U.K. Orders Google To Kill Links to 'Right-To-Be-Forgotten' Stories
Europe’s “right to be forgotten” movement has reared its head to bite Google yet again. This time, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered the tech giant to remove links to news stories about removing links to comply with European Union law.
The ICO issued its order after the organization ruled that the search results in question link to information about a person that is no longer relevant. The links are to Web pages that include details of a minor criminal offense committed by an individual almost 10 years ago, according to the organization. Google had previously removed other links relating to the offense at the request of the individual in question, the government said.
Unwarranted and Negative Impact on Privacy
So far, so good. Google responded to the individual’s request in compliance with EU regulations. The problem arose after the individual’s request and the removal of the links became a news story in its own right, generating an entirely new round of stories online that, you guessed it, Google linked to. Anyone who did a search on the name of the individual in question would find links to recent news stories describing the original crime.
The individual then asked Google to remove links to the new stories that had been written in response to the original request. Google refused, arguing that the articles were primarily about the company’s response, and were therefore an essential part of a recent news story relating to a matter of public interest.
The ICO didn't agree. The agency said that while it recognized the journalistic content of the decisions to delist search results may be newsworthy and in the public interest, that did not justify including links to information about an individual's crime, since it would have an unwarranted and negative impact on that person's privacy.
The Court Was Clear
“The European court ruling last year was clear that links prompted by searching on an individual’s name are subject to data protection rules,” said David Smith, deputy commissioner of the ICO. “That means they shouldn’t include personal information that is no longer relevant.”
Smith added, "We understand that links being removed as a result of this court ruling is something that newspapers want to write about. And we understand that people need to be able to find these stories through search engines like Google. But that does not need them to be revealed when searching on the original complainant’s name.”
Google has been trying to find a way to comply with the new regulation ever since the EU Court of Justice established the right to be forgotten rule last year. The regulation came about as the result of a ruling that found in favor of the Spanish government’s argument that providing search results in response to a search request on the name of an individual constitutes processing personal data, making it subject to the Data Protection Act of 1998.
The search giant has aggressively resisted the notion that individuals had a “right to be forgotten.” Earlier this month, Google pushed back against a French government agency that ordered the company to remove links not only in Europe, but anywhere in the world. Google has argued the right to be forgotten does not extend throughout the world, and is opposing efforts by academics and privacy advocates to pressure the Federal Trade Commission to create a similar regulation in the U.S.
Image credit: Google; Artist's concept.