Should we forget about the ‘right to be forgotten’? | Paul Chadwick

The European ruling that Google should erase ‘irrelevant’ and outdated data on request creates unrealistic expectations

Like the snow, data protection issues arrived last week in a flurry. How much can we edit our public past? Who is to judge what a society’s collective digitised memory is to retain or recall? A court in London is considering whether UK data protection law enables claimants known as NT1 and NT2 to compel Google to block online searchers from public information about their convictions for conspiracy to account falsely and to intercept communications. Meanwhile, Max Mosley called in aid data protection law to try to stop some newspapers referring to certain events from his past. And the UK parliament is due this week to debate legislation prompted by a new EU General Data Protection Regulation. It updates a directive from 1995 – pre Google, pre Facebook, pre smartphones and apps. Proponents say the GDPR will better balance individual privacy with collection and use of personal information by corporations and governments in the digital era, when, in a sense, we are our data.

In 2014 the European court of justice ruled in favour of a Spaniard who was discomfited by an archived newspaper item that contained public details about his former indebtedness. The court required Google to prevent the newspaper item being found through its search engine. Google calls this “delisting”. The item was not deleted from the newspaper’s electronic archive, but those who searched the man’s name would not have the item retrieved and shown among the links in the search results.

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