The Right to Be Forgotton

In this 21st century Information Age, an untold amount of personal data and personal history is collected and stored on the Internet. Where it was once quite straightforward to forget and heal past injuries through the passing of time, the Internet can freeze and preserve a moment, preventing individuals from moving forward in their lives.

In May 2014, the European Union Court of Justice held that under certain conditions, individuals have the right to be forgotten and can ask search engines to remove links with “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” personal information. This does not allow individuals to remove original content, it merely requires search engines to delete the links to make the information more difficult to find.

Recently, France’s data protection regulator ordered Google Inc. to apply Europe’s “right to be forgotten” holding to the search engine’s websites worldwide. Since the May 2014 European Union Court ruling, Google Inc. has already removed nearly one million links in European versions of Google’s search engine (E.g. google.de), but has not removed them from google.com. Google executives argue that their compliance could create the precedent that one region can create international rules for the Internet.

While Europeans historically associate privacy with personal honor and standing in society, Americans interpret privacy based on values of liberty. This clash between the right to privacy and the right to free speech and the free flow of digital information is of notable interest relating to cases of online defamation.

In cases of online defamation, Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling can provide a precedent to offer Americans relief from false and damaging Internet postings. Online defamation can damage an individual’s reputation, cause emotional distress and economic damages. The “right to be forgotten” is not about erasing information and censorship, but about giving individuals the opportunity to heal and to move forward. 

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