Last June, in the interest of preserving individual privacy versus public interest in freedom of information about specific persons, the EU courts ruled that Google must permit the removal of links to news articles, court judgments, and other documents that might turn up in results when searches are conducted on their names, upon the request of an individual. If it can be proven that public interest does not outweigh personal rights, then the search engine can be compelled by the courts to remove those links.
Over the course of link removal, a few weaknesses have been shown in the vague ruling from the EU. Derek E. Bambauer, an associate professor of law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, said: “The European Court’s decision did not provide a clear rule for when the company should delete links, and Google will have to make some difficult decisions. The easiest thing, of course, would be to remove every link that’s requested for deletion, but that would lead to massive overdeletion, and would probably make Google less useful as a search engine.”
Since the finality of the ruling, Google has received over 41,000 requests to remove links to website and search results—the site’s company engineers assess link removal requests individually to determine the value of keeping results up. However, if Google does deny a request, users can contact their local authorities to dispute the decision. As Rob Enderle, principal at the Enderle Group noted, “People that jumped at having their information scrubbed were folks that you’d want to know more about — pedophiles, criminals etc. — though this could be artificial, because clearly it would be in Google’s best interest for that to be the case. Without an independent enforcer, you are much more likely to end up with dramatic theater than with a fix for the problem.”
The “right to be forgotten” ruling revolves around the more recent discussion of whether or not search engine results count as free speech—and therefore should enjoy protection from the courts against excessive censorship. Though some argue that the entirety of Google’s search results would be preserved, and only searches on a person’s name would be controlled, others point out that allowing the EU ruling to remain unchallenged would allow the downward slide towards eliminating or hiding more information from the public without producing any substantial gains for the right to privacy.