The right to be forgotten is the latest hot topic in “internet privacy news”. This of course begs the question, “What is the right to be forgotten?” This is a right that exists under European law that allows a person to demand that the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing restrict search access to photos and information previously posted on the internet.
The European Court of Justice, which is Europe’s highest court, has ruled that search engines must remove links to information that is irrelevant, inadequate or private if requested to do so. However, this is based upon European law only and does not apply in the United States of America. In fact, the United States Constitution guarantees the right of free speech. The search engines, and Google in particular, appear ready to fight any attempt to restrict such access anywhere in the world except in Europe, and especially in the United States.
Google is currently trying to decide what its policy will be regarding this European ruling. It appears that for now, Google is taking the position that the request will only apply to searches conducted from within Europe and will be decided on an individual case by case basis. Also, the information will not be removed from the internet. The search link will just be inactivated. And, if you posted those photos you don’t want anyone else to see and they were downloaded by someone else, then people can still find it. Therefore, no one is ever totally forgotten.
While many in the United States hope that this right to be forgotten will result in a policy with the search engines that will ultimately carry over to the United States and other parts of the world, the chances of that happening are slim. We can rest assured that this will not be the end of litigation by the search engines. We will have to wait to see how all of this will play out. In the meantime, we all need to exercise restraint and contemplation before we post anything on line and assume that such information will be there forever.