Washington – Congressional staff heard the details at a panel discussion Friday of how Europe is now implementing its Right to be Forgotten rules.  The recent court ruling has generated controversy from various stakeholders because it requires search engines to delete links to information – though the information is still legally available at the original site online.

“The real change is that lawful information is posted online, but it’s not lawful to link to that information,” said Emma Llanso of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Some have likened it to the right for individuals to burn a card catalogue, or index, but the books still exist. European data regulators have recently questioned search engines about how they have been implementing the new law, and expressing concerns that companies were being too transparent about telling Internet users they were not receiving all available search results.

Mike Godwin, a former Wikipedia attorney, told those at the Internet Caucus panel discussion that the implementation is still being worked out as the underlying directive language is quite broad. He noted that the European court tried to apply data protection law that dated back before the growth of the Internet that was designed to give citizens rights when it came to what was stored in old private databases.

Rob Pegoraro, a former Washington Post reporter who now blogs for Yahoo, likened this court decision to a European version of the recent Aereo Supreme Court ruling in which the Justices struggled to apply old cable regulations to more advanced online technology and said they trusted the details could be worked out as the ruling was implemented. European officials ended up applying the Right to be Forgotten rule to just search engines rather than newspapers and other news media.

Joe Jerome with the Future of Privacy Forum said that Europe is skeptical of the U.S’’s approach to privacy, noting in the U.S. it’s more common to have a right to reply rather than a right to delete material.

All generally agreed the law as it’s now being interpreted focused more on the interests of the subject of the search rather than the rights of citizens searching for information online.

David Hoffman said that search engines and data brokers are uncomfortable being the ones to decide what is relevant and when to reject or implement Right to be Forgotten requests. He suggested a “Centralized Obscurity Center” to make these decisions, a suggestion with which several other panelists expressed discomfort.

Godwin said however the laws are implemented companies need to be just as transparent about these data removal requests as they are about government subpoenas for personal information. He said transparency helps provide the needed checks and balances so that data does not just disappear and people do not know why. He added that there should be as strong a “Right to Remember” as there is a Right to be Forgotten.

“European authorities need to give [companies] much better guidance on balancing privacy and free expression rights.”

 

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