The right to be forgotten

“Should, I google myself again?”

A personal reflection

That was the first thought that sped through my mind the moment I put down the article regarding Mario Costeja Gonzalez. As my fingers raced against the keyboard typing my name, I reminisced about the time I found a personal picture belonging to my Facebook account which was used as a default picture on a designer’s website for calendars. Feeling rudely “exposed” I contacted him to remove those pictures immediately. I can only imagine how devastating it must be for Mario when he discovered that information about a debt that was settled a decade ago that could very much jeopardize his livelihood was easily found in Google Search (Court of Justice of the European Union, 2014).

If you would like to read more about the details regarding Mario Costeja Gonzalez, check out: https://www.theguardian.com/world/blog/2014/may/14/mario-costeja-gonzalez-fight-right-forgotten

This made me question the impact of technologies on human rights. Are we consumed in a digital Panopticon with the all-seeing eye of the internet constantly watching or are we on the path where there is no privacy left to protect? Technology has unquestionably enabled individuals to have the freedom to search, gather and convey data with a click of a cursor, but in a case like Mario, I feel that it too can expose individuals to new-found dangers to their rights of privacy.

Nevertheless, technology is but in and of itself a tool and thus needs a hand to utilize it. It is the “hand” that we need to question. Therefore, as we evolve into the age of digitization where technology has altered the modes of communication and the style that we interact in, we must ask ourselves whether the value of human rights to protect and prevent privacy erosion has remained unchanged.

Firstly, do we as individuals should have the right to be forgotten? I believe so.

I feel that our digital rights to privacy should have the same weight-age as our rights in the non-digital sphere but that right cannot be abused. Simply, do I need to know you repaid your debts a long time ago? It’s not significant. Did you kill someone? Probably, I would like to know. Theoretically, this seems like a great concept, but I can see now that in practice it can be used as a double-edged sword.

There seems to be a grey area as to what is deemed as legitimate to be “forgotten”. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Google must remove the links based on individuals’ name that was deemed to be inadequate, irrelevant and excessive within the European Union (EU) member states (2014). However, this ruling, in my opinion, is like giving a blank check to individuals at the expense of Google. What is considered relevant and to which stakeholder? How long does information become obsolete? It’s just too ambiguous.

This is where the right to be forgotten meets its rival, the right to knowledge. What should be remembered and what should be forgotten? Google is, after all, a company and is driven by profits. From what I see, the right to be forgotten is more of a corporate burden and in Google perspective would be seen as a cost and a hefty one. Since the ruling, Google has been receiving requests every 90 seconds to remove links and has deleted listings of articles containing issues such as drug abuse, incest, murder, and spying  (‘Right to be forgotten’ rules to apply, 2016) which I consider is an abuse of the right to be forgotten. Heinous crimes and issues that may pose a potential danger to society at large should be remembered. But then again, the degree or extent of offenses or issues that are considered forgivable must be clearly determined and made known for such a law to be appropriately effective.

https://marketrealist.com/2019/01/whats-next-for-google-in-eus-right-to-be-forgotten-dispute/

However, I applaud the willingness of Google who, after the ruling, ramped up its efforts to be accountable of individuals’ data by cooperating with governments through their European privacy tour to meet an agreeable compromise with a human rights-based approach in mind (Scott, 2014). Although this ruling is within the EU, France strongly feels that for something to be considered a “Right” it ought to be universally accepted (Hern, 2017), basically the right to be forgotten must stretch beyond the borders of Europe. Interestingly, I find that it would be a Pyrrhic victory if that somehow become remotely possible for Europe is but a small region compared to the rest of the world and the internet is omnipresent, everywhere. How do you make a European law a universal one where parts of the world have a different mindset? To me it’s impossible.

Even ethical issues such as the morality of the death penalty are either accepted as immoral or moral. Everyone generally accepts that killing someone is bad, but as a form of punishment there is a division of opinions, hence we have abolitionist and retentionist countries in the world regarding the death penalty. That would be the scenario of the right to be forgotten.

If you are interested on my thoughts regarding the death penalty, check out: https://rosesandbrimstone.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/the-moral-permissibility-of-the-death-penalty/

I recommend that governments in favour of such digital rights, strengthen their accountability across all areas of digital rights; The lack of therefore would make it hard to seek support from the courts directly and individuals have to seek ranges of intermediaries such as agencies to present their cases.I don’t believe that the burden of costs and unnecessary bureaucracy validates compromising a right.I believe a greater exchange between governments, companies, data protection agencies and a stronger business and research collaboration on digital rights should be developed so as to cater to protecting individuals, while businesses like Google is able to strive without causing grievances and getting in trouble with governments. It is the shared responsibility of every stakeholder involve to build a community of a shared future that deals effectively with the unwarranted invasion of personal privacy especially in this digital age where most parts of our lives are recorded online.

As I scanned the search results of my name, I breathe a sigh of relief, thankful that nothing sensitive was found.

Bibliography

Court of Justice of the European Union, PRESS RELEASE No 70/14 (13 May 2014). Judgment in Case C-131/12 Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González. [online] Available at:https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/ application/pdf/2014-05/cp140070en.pdf

Hern, A. (20 July  2017). ECJ to rule on whether ‘right to be forgotten’ can stretch beyond EU. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/20/ecj-ruling-google-right-to-be-forgotten-beyond-eu-france-data-removed

Mail Online. (12 Feb 2016). ‘Right to be forgotten’ rules to apply to all Google’s search engines. [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3442392/Google-hide-content-removed-using-right-forgotten-ruling-versions-search-engine.html

Scott, M. (9 Sept  2014). Discussing Online ‘Right to Be Forgotten,’ Google Takes European Privacy Tour to Spain. [online] Bits Blog. Available at: https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/discussing-online-right-to-be-forgotten-google-takes-european-privacy-tour-to-spain/

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