Google and the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), France’s data-protection agency, are battling against the globalization of the “Right to be Forgotten” policy, which allows private citizens to request for removal of results about them from search engines, like Google.
Currently, such a policy is applicable only for citizens in all European states. But CNIL filed a complaint in a top European Union court urging the search engine giant to make the policy available to search engine results globally, instead of only within the EU.
Google, however, argued that applying the policy in all countries would impinge on freedom of speech. Even media organizations, such as Reuters, the New York Times, American Society of News Editors, and others agree with Google’s argument.
The Problem with EU’s “Right to be Forgotten”
The Right to be Forgotten is part of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), along with the Right to Erasure. This rule states that private individuals can ask search engines to erase data about them, supported with the necessary proof that they own the data. If proven right, search engines must take steps immediately, or they face reasonable measures the EU regulators impose.
This rule has its limitations. The data subjected for erasure must not collide with the right of freedom of expression and information. Other exemptions include the erasure of the following data:
- For compliance with legal obligations
- For archiving purposes in the public interest
- Historical or scientific research purposes
- Statistical purposes
- For the defense of legal claims
The problem though is that this rule only covers search engines in European states. The CNIL explains in its complaint that although Google deletes the data requested for erasure, the information is still visible in search results outside EU.
This shows the search engine company’s lack of protection toward the privacy of EU citizens.
Europe is Making the Internet “Worse”
Despite the opposition of the U.S. tech giant to CNIL’s request, the agency remains firm on pushing the agenda. The agency believes that extending the implementation of the Right to be Forgotten on a global scale is the only way to uphold European rights.
The executive director of the freedom-of-expression group Article 19, Thomas Hughes, says that the Google vs. CNIL case can threaten global free speech. Additionally, European data regulators should not control what worldwide Internet users find when they use search engines. Limiting the scope of the Right to be Forgotten can protect the rights of Internet users to access online information.
Hughes adds that telling Google to erase all references to a website may encourage other countries, such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia to do the same.
This is not the only time Europe created a buzz on the Internet. Recently, EU’s lawmakers voted for the amendment of the copyright law, particularly Article 11 or the “link tax.” This compels news aggregate sites and search sites, including Google and Facebook, to pay publishers for presenting news snippets or linking to news stories on other sites.
Experts think that this move can potentially “break” the Internet as the law would regulate censorship but would restrict Internet freedom, as well.
What makes it more interesting is that Axel Voss, the man behind this controversial law was not fully aware of what he voted for. He adds that the measure was under-scrutinized, as well.
How Other Countries Handle Digital Rights
After the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, more Americans raise concerns about their privacy in social media platforms. In fact, 61 percent of Americans want to further protection for their privacy. Two-thirds believe that the current laws safeguarding people’s privacy are insufficient.
The U.S. Congress is considering the Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act of 2018, which will require websites to provide users with a list of data that they have on them, including who has access to such information and how it is used. This bipartisan proposal is somehow similar to Europe’s GDPR.
America believes that tech companies are responsible for protecting the private data of users, which allows these companies to succeed in the free market.
China, on the other hand, thinks that the government should be responsible for protecting citizens’ data from being used for crimes, like fraud. Beijing, China’s capital city, has been establishing a standard protection system that aims to protect personal information and important data. This system is comparatively stricter than GDPR as it has a broader definition of personal data.
For example, it can cover personal information that could negatively affect reputation, property, or mental health. Over the years, Chinese authorities who handle cybersecurity have moved closer to the European counterpart, but the US is left behind.
The issue regarding the globalization of the Right to be Forgotten has been a subject of debate since 2014. Since then, Google has deleted 44 percent of requested data.
How will this battle over the right of an individual to privacy and the rights of many to free speech play out in the end?