Washington – The implications of the European court ruling yesterday are huge, and are raising questions from Internet users around the world about how the decision might be used and misused to promote censorship. The ruling by Europe’s highest court means that any individual there can demand that thousands of Internet companies remove links to truthful information about them that they find embarrassing or unsavory.
While initial reporting focused on the specific case, which involved Google and a European Court, the significance of the issue is much greater. This is a dangerous step in an ill-conceived push to create a “right to be forgotten” that has the potential to alter the fundamentals of information and knowledge flows online.
The finding that Google or other online services that offer links will now have the responsibility to censor, selectively take down and hide some of the broad information they display in response to legitimate inquiries is a paradigm shift. Given the global nature of the Internet, this decision will have broad implications for access to information for people around the world.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association has been an advocate for online privacy and a strong voice against government surveillance and Internet censorship for years. We also believe the Internet is a vital tool to empower individuals with information and knowledge. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“It’s not just Europe and it’s not just one company; this ruling represents a philosophical approach that undermines the underpinnings of the Internet. It has frightening, far-reaching implications for everything from researching information to free speech online.
“In one of these court case, a person wanted the online auction notice of their home due to unpaid taxes removed from the Internet, even when that information was available elsewhere in a newspaper. But links to that news article could now be censored. The other case focused on whether access to medical malpractice history could be blocked. These were both legal issues that would not disappear altogether online or in courthouse records – just the indexing of the information would be removed online. This ruling gives any individual the power to become a censor of the Web.
“We understand the desire to control information online, but a more careful approach is needed to ensure this does not turn into the right to hide the truth from others — or the right to enforce ignorance on others.”
“The ruling clashes with the principles of First Amendment in the U.S. so it would create a schism in global access to information. For example, Internet users in the US might be able to access a European news article that has unflattering information about someone, but European Internet users might be blocked from seeing links to that information.”