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‘Right to erasure’ brings as many questions as answers

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We should recall that reports which are delisted from the Google search service still exist elsewhere. Stock image

We should recall that reports which are delisted from the Google search service still exist elsewhere. Stock image

We should recall that reports which are delisted from the Google search service still exist elsewhere. Stock image

The right to privacy – or the “right to erasure” – is a growing trend as the implications of a landmark EU Court of Justice ruling back in 2014 becomes more widely known and used.

The ruling provided for an important right for all citizens to be able to move on with their lives after controversial events which put them in the public view.

But how this process is used, and how decisions on erasure are made, still leave many important questions unanswered which have implications for all citizens’ rights and the greater public good.

There is much work to be done here on this most sensitive issue and we need to hear more from people with expertise.

The Quinn family members’ success in their application for delisting of certain articles about their court battles and lifestyle, as reported in this newspaper, puts the focus on how Google arrived at its decision. Interest in accounts of their legal battles and their mode of living cannot be dismissed as mere voyeurism.

The Quinn family’s travails are linked to the fall-out from the collapse of one of the country’s largest banks, Anglo Irish Bank, which cost the taxpayer in excess of €30bn, adding to the nation’s mountain of debt which is with us to this day. The result of the collapse of Quinn Insurance left a shortfall of over €1bn and anyone buying non-life insurance since 2012 has been paying a levy of 2pc to help fill that gap.

Those are considerable costs to the ordinary Irish citizen. But this issue is absolutely not just about the Quinn family, it has ramifications far beyond that. There is mounting evidence that public figures are attempting to use the right to be forgotten as a means of reputation management.

It is an issue which is certain to grow in importance, so it would be best if its implications were properly discussed as soon as possible. Watchdog figures concerned with human rights, civil liberties and supervision of the internet, have justifiably called for more transparency about how Google arrives at its decisions to grant or refuse requests for erasure. Such a move, done voluntarily by Google, would be most welcome.

This call for transparency is entirely justified. Equally, there is a pretty strong case for some input from an independent authority with expertise on this complex issue. That would give the process some additional credibility and some more reassurance to a public who are slightly bewildered on occasion by such multifaceted issues.

But all of us have a responsibility here also. We must inform ourselves about the limitations of the Google service, which has become an invaluable tool for many people and a central part of our lifestyles.

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We should beware, therefore, of becoming too dependent on this internet search service. We should recall that reports which are delisted from the Google search service still exist elsewhere. It is very likely that a Google search will remain prominent in our lives. But it would be best if it were not our only point of reference in seeking information.


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