Quoted: on freedom of expression vs. the ‘right to be forgotten’

“I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honor, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression.”

Mario Costeja González, the Spanish lawyer whose years-long legal battle with Google led to a court ruling Tuesday by Europe’s highest court, which said Google and others must grant requests to remove some personal information from search results. González had protested the appearance of legal notices about a long-settled debt in search results for his name. After Tuesday’s ruling, he told the Guardian, “if Google was good before, it’s perfect now.”

Being “perfect” is small consolation to Google, which along with other search engines face the burden of having to deal with the inevitable onslaught of requests to get rid of links Internet users deem embarrassing or damaging to their reputations.

Does the right to be forgotten — or the right to privacy — outweigh censorship concerns? “[The decision] is one of the most wide-sweeping Internet censorship rulings that I’ve ever seen,” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the BBC. Wales said he expects Google to fight back hard. “If they have to start coping with everybody who whines about a picture they posted last week, it’s going to be very difficult for Google.”

Some key points from the tons of reaction and analysis the ruling has generated:

Besides censorship concerns, critics of the ruling say it could lead to a less informative Internet, one where it might be harder to find what we need.

There are no do-overs in real life, so: “If you did something stupid and someone writes about it, why do you later have the right to have it erased as if it never happened?” asked Brian Wesolowski of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based policy group, according to the Mercury News.

It’s not just Google and other search engines that could see their workloads increase dramatically. What about the courts? Perhaps more than ever, there will be lawsuits.

And others point out that just because something doesn’t appear in a search result doesn’t mean it’s gone poof. “A case could be made that this may give people a false sense of security. Sure, if you remove something from Google or Bing, most people won’t be able to find it anymore. But it still exists,” writes Lily Hay Newman for Slate.


Above: Google search screen grab



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