Privacy shouldn’t trump free speech
The high court’s ruling contradicts the recommendation of the EU’s advocate general. It also does a lot more than slightly impede the bottom line of the search giants. It muzzles the right to free expression in the name of protecting privacy, laying the foundation for a censored, fragmented and walled-off Internet.
The original case began with a lawyer named Mario Costeja González. In 1998, he found himself, and the foreclosure of his home, the subject of an article in La Vanguardia, a major print newspaper in Spain. Years later, an online version of the article was still appearing near the top of Google’s search results for his name. He decided to sue Google Spain and the newspaper, and the case made its way to Europe’s top court.
While the final decision did not require the newspaper to take down the offending article, it found that Google must take down links to the article, formalizing the idea that all Europeans have a ”right to be forgotten.”
EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding, a long–time champion of an expansive “right to be forgotten,” was quick to call the judgment “a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans.” She continued, “data belongs to the individual, not to the company.”
But should people really own facts about themselves? Especially ones that are already public knowledge?
In the aftermath, Google already has received more than 1,000 requests from individuals seeking to edit their search results. These aren’t just lawyers embarrassed about going bankrupt. They include a plastic surgeon sued for malpractice, a disgraced politician seeking re-election, a doctor with negative online reviews and a convicted pedophile. Do they have the right to be forgotten, too?
Mike Masnick sums it up well at TechDirt, “[t]hose who keep cheering this ruling on as a victory for ‘privacy’ don’t seem to understand what privacy means. Public information about bad things you did is not private information.” But there are major currents in the European legal tradition that run counter to this idea. In French law, for example, there exists an earlier right to be forgotten – le droit à l’oubli — which gives a criminal the right to “object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration” after he has served out his sentence.