The “right to be forgotten” is not an absolute right and the current procedure for determining what content can be ‘erased’ from search engines is inherently unfair, according to a leading data privacy campaigner.
Antoin O Lachtain, director of Digital Rights Ireland, said a story in Saturday’s Irish Independent illustrates how the landmark ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in 2014 over the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ or ‘right to erasure’ has raised concerns over how it is being applied.
He said how the ‘right to be forgotten’ is being implemented by search engines should now be reviewed by the Data Protection Commission.
The CJEU ruled that search engines such as Google must consider requests by individuals to “delist” links or content about them that was published online if such material is deemed to be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive”. Such factors as public interest in the material and the individual’s role in public life should be taken into consideration.
However, the decision has proved highly controversial amid evidence public figures have attempted to us it as a means of reputation management.
Delisting requests by 67 politicians or government officials and 146 people described as non-governmental public officials made since 2016, according to figures provided by Google. A further 80 requests were made by corporate entities.
Among links that were delisted were 26 press articles concerning members of the Quinn family that were delisted in September and webpages for 105 articles and 20 photographs of Quinn family members that were delisted in October.
Former billionaire Sean Quinn (73) was once Ireland’s richest man but he lost his fortune and control of the Quinn Group (insurance company). He was adjudicated as bankrupt in 2012 and was jailed for contempt for preventing the seizure of international assets by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) which was formed following the dissolution of the Anglo Irish Bank.
Numerous stories have been reported about the Quinn family’s subsequent court battles and lifestyles since then.
However a number of such stories – including one in which it was reported that the family spent €100,000 on a wedding cake – have now been delisted by Google at the family’s request.
Members of the Quinn family did not respond to requests from the Irish Independent for comment ahead of publication.
Mr O Lachtain said: “The ‘right to be forgotten’ is not an absolute right. It has to be taken in the context of the public significance of the matter. There are really three issues here. The procedure is not really fair in that there is no spokesperson for the public interest in considering whether to delist pages and there is no reference to the publishers of these stories. There is no appeal or review mechanism.”
"Google has immense market power. If a page is de-listed from Google it is almost as though it does not exist," he added.
He said the issue should now be explored by the Data Protection Commission.
“The Data Protection Commission has to consider how the public interest can be protected in cases like this,” he said.
A spokesperson for the commission could not be reached for comment last night.
Liam Herrick, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said “there needs to be transparency” around delisting of content by public figures.
“It is a complex enough issue but it comes down to transparency,” he said.
Olga Cronin, ICCL’s policy officer on information rights, agreed the matter should be explored by the Data Protection Commission.
“The whole issue of abusing this right is we don’t know how requests (to delist) succeed and why,” she told the Irish Independent last night.