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Right to be forgotten – To be or not to be forgotten

Pursuant to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force on 25 May 2018 and the UK Data Protection Bill (that will result in an act and come into force once the UK exits the EU), the general public is given more control over their personal data. Particularly, they will retain the right to be forgotten (RTBF) and for their data to be deleted if certain conditions are met.

Since it was legally established as a human right by the European Court of Justice in 2014, the RTBF has been a subject of many debates and concerns. Over 400K delisting requests have been sent to Google for over 2.3M URLs, and according to their research paper only 43% met the criteria for delisting. There is no automation, so every request is reviewed manually by an assigned reviewer against several factors, and the processing time for each request has dropped from 85 to 4 days since 2014.

Key points of debate

  • The RTBF has been defined as “the right to silence on past events in life that are no longer occurring”, e.g. spent criminal convictions, that can potentially damage a person’s chances to obtain insurance or find a job. However, some people may argue, that while it can be applied to the cases of revenge porn and petty crimes, it might be potentially damaging for a wider public and businesses if major crimes are silenced.
  • It is extremely difficult to evaluate delisting requests, and the search engines do their best in applying best care and attention. Google reviewers balance an individual’s privacy against the public interest. While the former is defined by law, the latter is very subjective and is driven by business interests. And when a fight ensues, the Court of Justice has to rule by considering not only the public interest but also the public’s right to access the historical record and the precise impacts on the person, as well as the claimant’s behaviour and attitude at the moment of court proceedings.
  • Many opponents of the RTBF share the American point of view, where the right of free speech and the right to know “have typically been favoured over the obliteration of truthfully published information regarding individuals and corporations”.

In the light of the recent Court judgments we can see that it is a developing area of law, and there will be more debates about privacy and individual’s rights in the coming months and years.

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