We hear every day that technology is changing rapidly, and that we are at risk of others violating our rights through digital means.   We hear about cyber attacks that steal data, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, names, incomes, or addresses. We hear about attacks that steal intellectual property, from movies to plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, we face a continual onslaught from not only the cyber criminals, but from the media as well. One of the lesser-reported issues in the US, however, has been a different discussion about data and rights protection: the right to be forgotten.

Last year, The European Court of Justice ruled in Google vs. Costeja that European citizens have the right, under certain circumstances, to request search engines like Google, to remove links that contain personal information about them. The Court held that in instances where data is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” individuals may request the information to be erased and delinked from the search engines. This “right to be forgotten” is a right that is intended to support and complement an individual’s privacy rights. It is not absolute, but must be balanced “against other fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and of the media” (paragraph 85 of the ruling). In the case of Costeja, he asked that a 1998 article in a Spanish newspaper be delinked from his name, for in that article, information pertaining to an auction of his foreclosed home appeared. Mr. Costeja subsequently paid the debt, and so on these grounds, the Court ruled that the link to his information was no longer relevant. The case did not state that information regarding Mr. Costeja has to be erased, or that the newspaper article eliminated, merely that the search engine result did not need to make this particular information “ubiquitous.” The idea is that in an age of instantaneous and ubiquitous information about private details, individuals have a right to try to balance their personal privacy against other rights, such as freedom of speech. Continue reading

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