‘Right to be forgotten’ or the ‘Right to rewrite history’?

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‘Right to be forgotten’ or the ‘Right to rewrite history’?

March 16th, 2018, Blog

Two businessmen have launched high court fights against Google asking for the removal of links to articles about their historic criminal convictions – but should we be allowed to edit our past and rewrite history?

Why do the businessmen want to be ‘forgotten’?

Two businessmen, known as NT1 and NT2, have recently brought claims in the high court demanding that Google remove results relating to their criminal pasts.

NT1 was convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s and wants Google to take down results mentioning his case as they cause him “distress and upset”. NT2 was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications but argues that his conviction is legally spent and he has a right to be forgotten.

What is the ‘right to be forgotten’?

Back in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU citizens have the right to request that irrelevant and outdated data is erased by commercial search firms, such as Google. The key to this right is that the information must no longer be relevant.

The right to be forgotten must be balanced against freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, as well as whether there’s a public interest case for retaining links to the information.

Are Google being asked to ‘rewrite history’?

Google recently published a statement which confirmed that since the ‘right to be forgotten’ was introduced, it has received almost 400,000 requests for the delisting of 2.4 million URLs. 43% of the requested URLs have been delisted by Google.

Anthony White QC who is representing Google in the current high court case has said that the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling was “not a right to rewrite history”.

Indeed, Baroness Prashar, chair of the Lords Home Affairs EU Sub-Committee, has said: “[We] do not believe that individuals should have the right to have links to accurate and lawfully available information about them removed, simply because they do not like what is said.”

Are criminal convictions ‘sensitive personal data’?

It seems that the cases of NT1 and NT2 may come down to whether the information published about the two businessmen’s criminal convictions are regarded as private information or simply information about their business or professional life.

Anthony White QC, representing Google, argues that the information is about the individual’s business life and therefore potential customers and investors have a right to access “true information about their past criminal conduct”.

Whereas the lawyers representing NT1 and NT2, argue that the search results ought to be delisted on the basis of the upset and distress they are causing to the businessmen’s professional and personal lives. “Before anyone meets a new person these days they Google them,” NT1’s counsel told the court.

What will happen to the ‘right to be forgotten’ after Brexit?

The ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling will continue to apply until March 2019 when the UK plans to leave the EU.

After Brexit, the government plans to replicate the General Data Protection Regulation (the new EU data protection legislation coming into force in May this year) with a Data Protection Bill that will include a ‘right to be forgotten’. This will allow people to ask for their personal data to be erased, and is even thought to extend to social media companies being asked to delete embarrassing posts.

Businessman wants links to articles about his criminal past to be removed from search engine. A second businessman who wants links to articles about his criminal past removed from search engine results has launched a high court fight. The man, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications, a high court judge has been told.


For further information contact Sana Sheikh.

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