European court rules Google must remove "irrelevant" links in certain situations to comply with EU law that gives people a right to be "forgotten."
surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General's opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications."
Last summer, Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen made a filing in the case arguing that requiring search engines to suppress legitimate, lawful information would hinder freedom of expression and would amount to a right to censor.
The Open Rights Group, a UK-based advocacy group, echoed this concern on Tuesday in a statement. "If search engines are forced to remove links to legitimate public content, it could lead to online censorship," the group said. "This case has major implications for all kind[s] of internet intermediaries, not just search engines."
In a Twitter post, Simon Phipps, president of the Open Source Initiative, suggested that the "right to be forgotten" is a misnomer. "It's not a right to be forgotten," he wrote. "It's a right to punish those who dare to remember. That's why it's broken."
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales expressed similar sentiment, noting that this case is about journalism and not just Google. "When will a European Court demand that Wikipedia censor an article with truthful information because an individual doesn't like it?" he asked in a Twitter post.
Jääskinen's assessment of the legal issues points to the problem Google and other information intermediaries face by republishing data found elsewhere: Google seeks the protections of a publisher without the responsibilities of a publisher. To push back against the limited "right to be forgotten," he notes "the service provider would need to put itself in the position of the publisher of the source webpage and verify whether dissemination of the personal data on the page can at present be considered as legal and legitimate for the purposes of the [right to be forgotten]."
Google clearly doesn't want that responsibility, but it should have some responsibility. At the same time, individuals shouldn't be free to suppress accurate information. Rather than a "right to be forgotten," the EU should give more thought to the phrase uttered by survivors of the Holocaust and other tragic events: "Never forget." History should not be legislated.
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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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