Rarely has a piece of EU legislation sounded so very much like an existential crisis pondered in smoky cafés by intense young Parisians in black polo-neck sweaters.
Those hoping to be presented with a philosophical problem in their morning newspapers might have been surprised and disappointed to discover that ‘the right to be forgotten’ actually relates to an important ruling relating to Data Protection.
It all began with one Maria Costejo Gonzalez, who was exasperated to discover that on Googling his name, internet users were presented with information on a long-gone period of financial difficulty in which his house was auctioned.
Keen to whitewash his fiscal reputation, Gonzalez began legal action that culminated in an EU judgment enabling individuals to seek to have search engine entries related to their personal data removed from the record.
There are inevitable concerns that this represents a breach of the right to freedom of speech, but there is a crucial distinction here: Google waived the right to be considered a media outlet, which would have made it exempt from Data Protection legislation. Instead, since it gathers and stores personal information, it has status as a Data Controller under the Data Protection Act, and must therefore abide by the principles of the Act.
Those seeking removal of information will need to make requests under the DPA, (under Article 17 of the UK GDPR) proving that the links they wish to be removed lead to information which is now ‘inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant’.
There is an amusing postscript to the ruling, which relates to what has become known as ‘the Barbra Streisand effect’. When the renowned diva took legal action to prevent photographs being taken of her Malibu mansion, the resulting publicity ensured that anyone with access to the news knew precisely the mansion’s location, colour scheme and garden layout. In just the same way, the financial troubles of Maria Gonzalez are now common knowledge well beyond the Spanish borders.
It remains to be seen how UK citizens will react to their new rights. One commenter predicts a distinctly British ‘meh’ response. Nonetheless, legal practitioners and litigation support professionals such as Legastat will doubtless keep a keen eye on progress. When an increasing amount of legal action involves the gathering, scanning and processing of data hosted by internet providers and search engine platforms, any legislative developments in this area must be taken seriously.
And at Legastat, at least, ‘meh’ is simply not in our vocabulary.