A French court ordered Google to remove links to images of Max Mosley and the sex party he had with five prostitutes.
Mosley is the former chief of Formula One racing. Five years ago he organized a private soiree that UK Tabloid News of the World exposed and dubbed a “sick Nazy orgy.” The party reportedly involved sado-masochism and some sort of Nazi role-play, and the press had an absolute field day.
Mosley retaliated by suing News of the World, calling the expose a “gross and indefensible intrusion.” He ended up winning £60,000 ($96,534) because the judge ruled his activities did not, in fact, involve Nazi role-play. Mosley won a similar ruling in France in 2011 when a judge ordered News Corp to may tens of thousands of dollars in fines and fees as well.
Not wanting to stop his winning streak, Mosley filed suits against Google in Germany and France over search results linking to the incriminating photos, originally published in News of the World.
“This is a troubling ruling with serious consequences for free expression and we will appeal it,” said Google’s Associate General counsel Daphne Keller in a statement. “Even though we already provide a fast and effective way of removing unlawful material from our search index, the French court has instructed us to build what we believe amounts to a censorship machine,”
Google said that the court’s request would require it to build a new software filter to continuously catch new versions of posted images and remove them. It is a search engine that delivers links to content, and is not responsible for policing them. While the search giant can delete images on the website, it can’t prevent other people from reposting them.
Furthermore the search giant has a process in place for removing unlawful content, and said it already removed hundreds of pages of Mosley.
Google seems like to wrong target for Mosley’s wrath here.
You can’t have an allegedly Nazi-themed, bondage, sex party with five prostitutes as a public figure and expect that people won’t post and search for the evidence.
Salaciousness aside, this case does raise important questions about Internet privacy and censorship.
Photos on the Internet can’t be destroyed with a pairs of scissors or by stomping on a film canister, like the days of yore. Digital images remain stored somewhere in cyberspace and can come back to bite you when you least expect it. The questions of who should have how much control over their personal data is still being figured out by citizens, corporations, and governments all around the world.
Organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Centre for Digital Democracy, and the Consumer Federation of America support the “right to erasure and to be forgotten” and protection of people’s data. Europe has rules in place, but the U.S. doesn’t, and many tech giants are on the other side of the debate.
Once you start taking down images, where does it end? At what point does it impinge on freedom of speech and the freedom of the press?
In the meantime, Mosley will continue his effort to stomp out every last photo from that fateful evening from the Internet, if not our collective memories.