Business

Europe's 'right to be forgotten' law is already destroying itself

european union flag
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.


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