right to be forgotten lawTechdirt has an interesting piece about how the EU’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ law—a law which requires search engine owners to remove articles at the request of people mentioned in them. The law is intended to help people ensure that potentially embarrassing things about them do not stay online forever, but it has been criticized as being potentially censoring, and for lacking an appeals process so that legitimate news reporting can stay online.

Some news sources are finding ways around this, and Techdirt’s story reports on a newspaper who is getting around the requests by simply reporting on them. This creates another article which summarizes the contents of the earlier one, and thereby keeps the information online (at least until the parties who requested the removal figure out what’s going on and file a new removal request). From the article:

“It sounds like the Bolton News will simply highlight each request as it comes in, defeating the requester’s attempt to bury bad news. Many other journalism outlets have taken the same stance in the last several days, turning the EU court’s ruling into one of the most self-defeating decisions ever rendered.”

What an interesting turn of events! I see what the intent was behind the original law—I know of of least one Usenet posting dating from the 80s which mentions my home address, because the internet was different then, people did not expect things to be online forever, and I was a teenager and knew even less than most people. But obviously, there were flaws in the implementation of this policy. I think there is a difference between removing a Usenet party invitation from the 80s, and removing genuine news stories reporting on legitimate events. I have no problems with this newspaper doing what they can to keep the public record of legitimate news online and highlighting the flaws in the system while they do it. Maybe it will prompt lawmakers to go back and plug the holes in their new law.

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  1. I’ve got an extraordinarily low opinion of the EUocracy’s ability to come up with intelligent regulations, but this one totally astonished me.

    George Orwells’ 1984 had a Ministry of Information with the power to remove uncomfortable bits of the past. The EU would give that same power to censor (through search engines) to virtually any individual who has ever been mentioned on a webpage.

    I’m glad to know that European newspapers are making a mockery of this insane law. Since it doesn’t apply to the U.S., it’d be great to see apps that allow Europeans to search Google ‘as if’ they were in the states.

    Of course, here in the states, some in Congress want to regulate political free speech with such complex financial and other requirements that only the very well-to-do will be able to afford lawyers to see their way through that thicket–that and putting the IRS on people with politically incorrect POVs.

  2. I was actually considering this little “loophole” myself, except that Google (or whomever) publishes each request to give “the Internet” time to Streisand Effect the blurb of data before it is removed. There could be an entire search engine devoted to pulling up information that people want to be forgotten.

  3. I predict that within 3 months the various news media who are re-quoting the “old” stories will simply give up.

    It’s too much time, effort and trouble for no real return.

    Of course, if the person who asks for something to be forgotten is famous in any way, then the media will report on who is asking for what to be forgotten.

    For everyone else, who wants some embarrassing item to be “forgotten” the law will work fine.

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