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Europe’s ‘right to be forgotten’ law is already destroying itself

Image Credit: Håkan Dahlström

Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law is a threat to journalism, freedom of speech, and the Internet itself. We’d call for protests, but the blowback has already arrived.

The story begins with a man named Mario Costeja González, who was mentioned in a Spanish newspaper after his home was repossessed. In an effort to remove the article from Google, Costeja González sparked an international debate, and won.

The result, as you may know, is the European Union’s new “right to be forgotten” law, a ruling that is intended to balance the need for individual privacy with public transparency.

And yet the law has quickly manifested itself in a frightening way. The Guardian was among the first to report the ruling’s unfortunate effects: the removal of six articles, of which the first three concerned a Scottish Premier League referee who “was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty” during a soccer match, the Guardian writes.

Among the other three articles, “a 2011 piece on French office workers making post-it art,” and “a 2002 piece about a solicitor facing a fraud trial.”

This brings us to the highest-profile incident yet. Yesterday, the BBC received the following notice from Google:

Notice of removal from Google Search: we regret to inform you that we are no longer able to show the following pages from your website in response to certain searches on European versions of Google:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/thereporters/robertpeston/2007/10/merrills_mess.html

Under EU law, Google is now required to censor the history of Merrill Lynch. The omitted article reported the downfall of former chief executive Stan O’Neal, who led Merrill Lynch into a frightening state of instability and was later forced out of the company.

The result, as Google intended

As we wrote in May, we’re all about to learn an important lesson: “There is no way to exercise the right to be forgotten without taking away someone’s right to express and educate themselves.”

The very purpose of the EU’s “right to be forgotten” law was to hide content that violates the privacy of an individual. Already, under the law, we’ve observing the exact opposite scenario. The intentions of the law are now effectively void, because for every article removed, a new article appears. Each act of censorship will rattle journalism at its core, and as a result, awareness of the very stories select individuals hoped to hide will skyrocket.

This was Google’s plan all along — it’s the very reason why Google is sending removal notices to publications. As the Guardian wisely notes, “Costeja González won his fight for a right to be forgotten,” but “the fight was pretty damn memorable.”

The consequences of this law are terrifying, but the blowback has already arrived. Sit back and watch as Europe’s ‘right to be forgotten’ law destroys itself.

More information:

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11 comments
Mike Plummer
Mike Plummer

Privacy in public does not exist by definition. Sure, paparazzi and stalkers and so on need to be addressed, but such a sweeping order results in unintentional(?) censorship.

Brant Emery
Brant Emery

Disagree - and commented as such. I think it's a positive and needed step. Just the implementation needs improving. But that's the same with every new law. As long as we continue to push for enactments that refine the law, this could be a very beneficial civil act that helps hundreds of thousands of at risk children, teens, mothers, abused and others.

Brant Emery
Brant Emery

Yes, but you're using examples of mis-use, or loopholes, in the law to support your argument. The fact is, every law has loopholes! Look at corporations and tax law, billions of tax avoided, companies like Goldman Sachs that effectively convince courts they have the rights of an individual one day, the next effectively campaigning in European courts that they can't! Everyone misuses laws. Full stop. If you want to use this article to highlight the faults and improve this ruling, great, but I feel there is just bias against it. I actually support it. The freedom of people to not have past acts, comments, or expressions recorded indefinitely on public record is very essential. In no other aspect of civil law do we allow this, so why should the internet be different? Look at the case where people have been bullied - into teen suicides in the worst instances - online, should they not have the protection of anonymity when moving to a new city? And there are many, many more positive examples to support this act. Frankly, I find this article biased and blatantly ill-thought out.

RichardandKate Spicer
RichardandKate Spicer

It sounded like a great idea but there isn't a good way to implement it. Just like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Bruno Parisotto
Bruno Parisotto

Imagine alot of trees, people can write in the trees, they put lies and truths there. What happens if people start to cut off the trees?

Sergio Sionis
Sergio Sionis

Shall we talk about the freedom of speech and the privacy rights in America? Just asking...

fran farrell
fran farrell

@Brant Emery How many EU law clerks does it take to draft an opinion for the EU high court? 


Not a polish joke. How many law review students in each country suggested effective, wording that would not contravene settled law in each of the 28 countries and fed back translation in French and German to the EU high court. A PR spokesman for the high court is putting out a story about what the court intended. Does that the PR spokesman's statement have the force of law?

Andre Kibbe
Andre Kibbe

@Brant Emery Unlike libel law, RTBF is fundamentally flawed because it's unscalable. Like DMCA requests, RTBF filings can't be vetted before they have to be honored.


To say that there are more positive examples of RTBF working than negatives ones basically like saying that there are more good people than bad people. You could ban free speech and find more examples of pornography and racism being eliminated than socially constructive political dissent. The ratio of constructive-to-abusive instances is irrelevant.


The proper remedy for controlling libelous search results is libel law, not indiscriminate, wholesale redaction. RTBF turns Google into every corporation's, government's, and individual's authorized biography.

G D
G D

@Brant Emery What you want is others to be responsible for your actions. This isn't about loopholes but unintended consequences of laws that are enacted. Corporate and tax laws are some of the heaviest on the law books but it's all about enforcement. Or in this case, selective enforcement so this has nothing to do with what this article is referring to. If you don't want your business to spread on the net DON'T DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.