If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the “right to be forgotten” is a newly-recognized right in the European Union to have internet search results about you removed. Basically, you have the right to force the deletion of information about you from the internet.
It’s a concept that sounds great when we’re talking about children or other vulnerable members of society. But there are dangerous consequences to this infringement on the free flow of information. The new “right” is already being abused in entirely predictable ways.
BBC News economics editor Robert Peston reports that this has already started happening because apparently Google has removed his 2007 article about former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal from its European search results. The article in question detailed O’Neal’s disastrous tenure running the firm, which got sold to Bank of America after suffering massive losses from overexposure to subprime mortgage derivatives. There was absolutely nothing factually incorrect about the piece, which was a harbinger of even worse things to come in the 2008 financial crisis.
“There is an argument that in removing the blog, Google is confirming the fears of many in the industry that the ‘right to be forgotten’ will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest,” Peston writes.
One thing is clear: If the “right to be forgotten” is allowed to expand from private citizens to public figures such as politicians, businesspeople and celebrities, then it will be a massive loss for our ability to find important information. You can bet that Rob Ford and Anthony Weiner, among many others, are watching this case very closely.
Rob Ford and Anthony Weiner nothing. The big problem isn’t when it comes to widely-discredited figures whose names have become national punchlines. The problem comes when politicians, businessmen, and other public figures abuse the removal system to hide lesser-known transgressions.
It would be one thing for Google to have an appeal process to remove results in cases where exceptional circumstances make it the right thing to do. But the government forcing information sources to toss previously-public information down the memory hole is downright Orwellian. In fact, disappearing information and altering the historical record was literally Winston Smith’s job. Now Europe has made that very concept a “right”.