The Right to be Forgotten – Group 2 Final Report

Introduction
Back in 2010, Spanish citizen Mario Costeja González filed a complaint against Google asking for the removal of links from Google search results, because they involved an auction notice of his repossessed home which had been resolved many years before. The request was originally rejected, but the case was brought to the European Court of Justice in 2014, which decided in favor of González, and established “The Right to be Forgotten”. According to the Factsheet(C-131/12) of the RTBF published by the European Commision [1]:

Individuals have the right – under certain conditions – to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them. This applies where the information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing.”

Following this ruling, Google has made available an online form for EU citizens, which  allows for the removal of links that comply with the above conditions.

Ever since this decision, a heated debate has ignited across different nations, regarding the ethics, applicability and implementation of the ruling. Throughout this report, we will present our findings, in order to gain a spherical understanding of the issue at an international level.

Methodology
We began our research by looking for relevant case studies, putting emphasis on cases that were actually taken to court and have sufficient documentation. Our first findings indicated the aforementioned distance of opinions, one important case being the recent legal conflict between France and Google, in which France is requesting the removal of links not only on Google’s French domain, but on all of its domains.

Influenced by this, we decided to shift our focus, and started investigating the various legislations similar to the RTBF around the globe, how they are implemented and relative legal cases.

While we were able to find some interesting cases and legislative differences, there were still a large number of countries for which we couldn’t find any pertinent results. Even so, we still tried to draw some conclusions as to why some countries may not have a RTBF, as well as examine trends which may bring forth a similar ruling in the future.

In order to obtain unbiased results, given that this is an issue that directly concerns search engines, we conducted our research using four different search engines; two American, one Russian and one Chinese (Google, Bing, Yandex, Baidu).

Following we present a color coded map with the degree of implementation the RTBF has seen around the world.

In the next section, we introduce a few prominent examples for every continent, in order to keep this report concise. In accordance with our supervisor’s advice, we include a file with further information on all the countries we could find material for, in the attached link.

Mapatlas

France
France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), fined Google for not applying the RTBF on all domains of its search engine, including google.com. Google offered to comply with this restriction, but only for users in the same country as the RTBF requester. The CNIL rejected the proposal and responded that the user’s privacy shouldn’t be bound by geographic origin of the searcher. At the moment Google has requested an appeal [2] [3].

Canada
There is a Canadian RTBF, but in contrast to the European variant, it targets the original source of the data instead of the search engine results. On a related note, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that the use of hyperlinks by search engines cannot be held responsible for “defamation purposes” since they are an integral part of how the internet works and information is shared [4] [5].

United States of America
According to experts, the Spanish case would have never passed in the USA. Although the US law protects sensitive information, the right to freedom of speech trumps that of privacy. One case that is related to the RTBF, included a Texas attorney getting a court order for Google to remove links on a disciplinary judgement, which was eventually overturned in an appellate court. In another case, a family sued the California Highway Patrol for allowing photographs of their deceased daughter to be leaked and got a settlement for $2.4 million [6] [7].

Africa
South Africa recently passed the “Protection of Personal Information” act which, according to law experts, could open the door to users requesting the removal of personal information [8].
Remarkably little discussion and cases exist for other countries in the continent of Africa. It would appear that due to political unrest and smaller consumption of technology, African countries do not have an active interest in enforcing a RTBF.

Australia
In 2014, the Australian Law Reform Commission made a move in Europe’s direction, recommending that a “right to deletion of personal information” be inserted as an amendment to the Privacy Act. Unlike the EU proposal, the suggested changes are strictly limited to information that has been provided by the requesters themselves [9].

South Korea
Back in February, it was announced that an RTBF variant will be implemented, although the conditions under which someone may invoke the RTBF are still under deliberation. Approval of a request will depend on its content, namely whether it contains information pertaining to political figures, or articles and academic research deemed important for the public interest [10].

Conclusion
From our research, we observed that several countries outside the EU have implemented their own variants of the RTBF, which differ in some aspects. The most fundamental difference is determining when an individual may invoke the RTBF; some countries only validate RTBF requests for erroneous data and others do not allow them for individuals who hold public office. Additionally, there exist stricter implementations that force deletion of information at the source website, whereas the EU version only forces removal of search results.

In our effort to analyze the political and cultural differences between countries that do not have an RTBF, we noticed a very fundamental divergence of opinions; the American point of view values the right to freedom of speech more than that of individual privacy, which explains their opposition to the RTBF.

At the same time, there are countries that currently don’t have an active RTBF, but are considering implementing it. For instance, South Korea has a pending proposition, and Japan has already established precedence.

Interestingly enough, there were still a lot of countries, mostly located in Africa, Asia, and South America, for which we could not find any relevant information. We attribute this to the fact that there is so much socio-economic unrest in African and South American countries that online privacy is not a priority. As for Asia, countries like China have frameworks in effect that police online activity more than the RTBF, that there is really no point in having a separate bill dedicated to personal information protection.

References
[1]: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/files/factsheets/factsheet_data_protection_en.pdf
[2]: http://www.wsj.com/articles/france-fines-google-over-right-to-be-forgotten-1458847256
[3]: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-google-france-privacy-idUSKCN0WQ1WX
[4]: http://www.mcmillan.ca/The-Internet-Never-Forgets-Google-Incs-right-to-be-forgotten-EU-ruling-and-its-implications-in-Canada
[5]: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/right-to-be-forgotten-how-canada-could-adopt-similar-law-for-online-privacy-1.2676880
[6]: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/29/solace-oblivion
[7]: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/09/24/californias-new-online-eraser-law-should-be-erased/#6e7588f0399d
[8]: http://www.iol.co.za/business/opinion/what-sa-law-says-about-the-right-to-be-forgotten-1702860
[9]: http://www.itnews.com.au/news/law-reform-commission-proposes-a-8216right-to-be-deleted8217-381327
[10]: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160221000366

Authors
Konstantinos Ioannou
Alexandros Sympetheros