Legislation & Lobbying, Social

The Right to be Forgotten: anonymity, truth and the ethical conundrum

The debate surrounding the ‘right to be forgotten’ continues to escalate as a second high court case is launched against Google.

Following just weeks after the landmark legal battle that saw a businessman, who remained anonymous for legal reasons, challenge Google for possessing open information regarding previous criminal convictions, this second case will also bring a similar challenge against the tech giant.

This second former convict, going by the name of NT2 argues that information readily available on google about a ten year old conviction for conspiracy to intercept communications should be taken down. Though the old conviction has been and gone in this time period, Google disagrees that the information, including articles from national media sources, should be withdrawn from the platform, reports The Guardian.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ was established by the Court of Justice for the European Union in 2014 as a precedent to access and remove irrelevant personal content from public online spheres. Since the ruling, Google has received 2.4 million requests to remove information, however the company maintains the right to refuse the action if the information is deemed more important to public interest. It has been reported that the most common takedown requests coming from individuals have ranged in areas from government records, social media and directories and resulted in a number of convictions and former elements of fraud blurred from the internet.

The two recent cases are the first of their kind to be addressed in UK court and it will be down to Mr Justice Warby to deliver a verdict on both cases later on this week. The cases also come just before the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation which, set to be introduced by the EU in May, will enhance the process of removing ‘irrelevant’ data from the internet.

The ‘right to delist’ however is currently only available in line with European Law, with the spotlight now turning to America. Although Forbes points out that 88% of Americans in a recent study agreed with having the right to be forgotten, there seems to be little further progress in establishing such a law, referring to the right of freedom of speech as a means of preventing the censoring of data. The only thing that has recently come close to the EU slap down of irrelevant information is a New York civil rights bill which, though wordy, ultimately embodies the EU law itself. The bill which ultimately looks at censorship and ‘information about an individual to remove such information, upon the request of the individual, within thirty days of such request,’  has been heavily criticised as being too vague and unconstitutional.

The scope of the handling of the vast amounts of personal data also spans significantly further than just search engines. If you go into the depths of your Facebook settings  for instance, a small unassuming button will allow you to see all the data the social media platform has collected on you, ever, from telling you what type of camera was used when uploading a photo, the exact moment a former relationship ended in the social sphere and precise locations when posting statuses. Essentially, it’s one of the first minute by minute records of your life since that first fateful sign up to social media and another platform that will be challenged by the new EU bill into showing users all information that has been collected and deleted at your request.

The ongoing debate raises several ethical dilemmas. We are left with two polarising legalities; one of which a recent study found might link to the terrifying rise of fake news – the first amendment providing a platform of justification for that very group of gossipers. The opposing leading to the concealment of real facts and former news altogether, which is no better.

The monumental decision rests with Justice Warby’s verdict but going forward it might just be the case that we need to sharpen our detective skills and abilities to sniff out the difference between truth and fake news that had formerly been numbed by the easy-peasy search engines.

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