Last year a European court discovered a “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, allowing Europeans to demand that search engines remove links in search results to news stories and other accurate information that these people don’t want discovered. This development would merely be an amusing reminder to Americans about the absence of a First Amendment in Europe—if it weren’t for a recent demand by French regulators that search engines now censor their results in the U.S., not just in Europe.
Unless the Obama administration can rouse itself to intervene to protect an open Internet, Google could soon have to start deleting search results in the U.S., making the Internet inaccurate for Americans, too.
The European Union’s Court of Justice last year came up with the “right to be forgotten” when it ordered Google to remove links to news stories in search results about a Spanish lawyer who complained about factual reporting on his troubled finances. The court said the articles violated his privacy, even though the accounts were true, and ordered search engines to delist links that are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive.”
This isn’t about privacy—it’s about hiding. Privacy laws protect people from facts about them becoming public. The right to be forgotten is instead a right to make it hard for others to find already public information. News articles remain online, but no longer appear in search results, undermining the main tool employed by Internet users to find reliable information.
Google currently deletes articles from search results only on its European versions, such as the French Google.fr and German Google.de. In June the French privacy regulator ordered Google also to remove stories on Google.com, the global version of its search engine used by Americans. The European court made this extraterritorial demand even though 97% of searches in France employ the French version of Google.
We invented the Internet. Are we to let Eurotrash foul it up?
Google recently informed British newspapers that it had been obliged to remove stories about a shoplifting when the perpetrator asked to be forgotten. The Oxford Mail wrote about the removal of its news account about the shoplifter; last week the British Information Commissioner’s Office demanded that Google not include the paper’s follow-up reporting in search results. In other words, Google must remove links to news articles reporting about its being ordered to remove links to news articles.
If it comes down to it, Google should publish a list of links it is not allowed to show, then let an Army of Davids publish them on their own websites.