The European Commission has published a ‘myth-busting’ factsheet to ensure that the public debate surrounding the “right to be forgotten” is based on the facts. The “right to be forgotten” has generated much debate on the accessibility of personal information legally available online. Neither the “right to be forgotten” nor “the right to information” are actually a legal right, thereby complicating the debate before it can begin.

The right stems from the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González. We have discussed the salient issues of this decision in a previous blogGoogle have subsequently formed an advisory council on the matter and embarked on a seven meeting European tour to discuss the future of Internet privacy.

The factsheet provides commentary centred on the following ‘myths’ and ‘facts’:

  • Myth: The judgment does nothing for citizens. Fact: ‘The right to be forgotten is about making sure that…citizens are in control of their personal data’;
  • Myth: The judgment entails the deletion of content. Fact: ‘The Court’s judgment only concerns the right to be forgotten regarding search engine results involving a person’s name. This means that the content remains unaffected by the request lodged with the search engine, in its original location on the internet’;
  • Myth: The judgment contradicts freedom of expression. Fact: ‘The right is not absolute and it must always ‘be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the freedom of expression…the right to be forgotten applies where the information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of data processing. This means that the company running the search engine must assess requests on a case by case basis’;
  • Myth: The judgment allows for censorship. Fact: ‘The right to be forgotten does not allow governments to decide what can and cannot be online or what should or should not be read’;
  • Myth: The judgment will change the way the internet works. Fact: ‘The internet will remain an important source of information as content will remain in the same location…The way search engines function will also remain the same’; and
  • Myth: The judgment renders the data protection reform redundant. Fact: ‘The reform includes an explicit right to be forgotten. It is a fundamental modernisation of the rules establishing a number of new rights, for instance the right to freely transfer your personal data from one service provide to another, and the right to be informed when the security of your data is breached’.