Friday, May 16, 2014

The right to be forgotten and Orwell's memory hole

A couple of days ago I blogged that the "right to be forgotten" is a worrying development. Now a story on BBC News shows what it may lead to:
Google has received fresh takedown requests after a European court ruled that an individual could force it to remove "irrelevant and outdated" search results, the BBC has learned. 
An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behaviour in office removed. 
A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction to be wiped. 
And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed from the results.
I expect "the BBC has learned" all this because Google has been careful to tell it, but this report does show some of the dangers of this newly minted right.

Over to Canada and Don Pittis on CBC News:
The European Court has shown the horrible danger of an ephemeral electronic storage system. 
Suddenly a government or court can rule that information no longer exists in an easily accessible form. A paragraph from an electronic book, an article in an electronic newspaper, cannot be searched. And whoosh, history has changed. 
It sounds like an excerpt from George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 where The Ministry of Truth could decide which facts were acceptable. 
"For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes," Orwell wrote. "When one knew that any document was due for destruction … it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building."

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

Perhaps the right to be forgotten does not exist?

The ability to be *partially* forgotten exists -- by removal from search engine results, following a legal instruction or bullying of a search provider. However the source story would remain. Even when a story is removed by the source, archives or print versions might turn up to persistent inquirers.

Where we are now, some people assume that they can send a take down request to Google and links to information about them will be removed. It does not work that way.

This "right to be forgotten" case established that in some circumstances a court may instruct a search provider to delete links. In order to save legal costs, it is likely that take down requests *of that particular kind* will be observed by search providers automatically. So if you had a problem with the Spanish tax authorities 15 years ago, talk to Google if it affects your business credibility.

But if newspapers reported a successful prosecution for looking at images of child abuse in 2008, it is implausible that a search provider will remove links about the culprit.

To establish the right to be forgotten -- about that day when your trousers fell down at a prize ceremony, recorded on CCTV and YouTube, protesting that the elastic waist band was perished -- you have to place your request in the public domain. You have to convince a court to tell Google and other search providers to remove links.