It has been reported today that several newspapers and broadcasters are starting to be contacted by those seeking to have details of their past removed from the publishers’ online archives following the European court ruling against Google.
Papers are receiving “take down” requests following the Ruling that determined that anyone can demand the removal of information relating to them from search engines. In theory this right to be forgotten could apply to newspapers who use search engines such as Google to power their archive function. Most of the requests to date appear to be historic reports about crime.
News organisations presently try to rely on a journalistic exemption under section 32 of the Data Protection Act when complaints are received about the use of someone’s data, although the remit of this exemption is in fact far narrower than the press accept. As it stands, newspapers say that they will be judging each request on its merits and will only take down articles in exceptional circumstances. The BBC confirmed today that they have not removed any articles yet as they consider the impact of the Google ruling.
Google have yet to confirm how they will deal with their surge of take down requests (currently in the thousands), with suggestions of an online widget being trialled in Germany in the coming weeks. The German government announced yesterday that they are contemplating setting up arbitration courts to consider what information people can “force” Google and other search engines to remove from results. This may pave the way for other European countries to set up “dispute-settlement mechanisms” for consumers who are starting to file their requests – it won’t be as simple as introducing automatic deletion or creating an online algorithm that determines whether the information should be removed.
Even if information is removed from Google, it is important to note that the information won’t be completely removed online. It will always remain on the underlying website, it will just be harder to find without it appearing on search engine results.
The ruling suggests that search results which are irrelevant, inadequate or out-of-date can be requested to be taken down, but it remains to be seen whether resources will be employed to make that judgment call, or how quickly they will be able to respond. It will be interesting to see how they will allocate the time and cost to reviewing each request on a case-by-case basis, with consideration to whether the information is sensitive and whether there is public interest in keeping it accessible. Will there be an appeal system if people don’t like the decision the search engine has come to? In theory they could turn to the courts or the relevant data-protection authority to challenge those decisions, according to the Google ruling. For now it’s watch this space as we wait to see Google’s response to the first tranche of requests.