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EU Guidelines for “Right to Be Forgotten” Harm Transparency and Represent a Vast Overreach on Internet Policy

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On November 26, the Article 29 Working Party released guidance for the “Right to be Forgotten”—a policy that allows users to request that search engines remove links from search queries associated with their names, even if the information being removed is accurate. These guidelines will force European privacy laws on other nations and erode free speech rights globally. These new rules will also make it difficult for third-parties to determine when links have been removed, diminishing the ability for websites to appeal removed links.

The working group has stated that Google and other search engines should remove links not only for European-specific domains (e.g. google.fr), but for all global domains (e.g. google.com). In effect, Europe is saying that its rules for the Internet should apply everywhere and trump that of any other nation.

As ITIF has argued previously, Europe should not seek to impose its policies on other autonomous nations, including by extending the Right to be Forgotten beyond the country code top level domains of European nations. Instead, European nations should create domestic Internet policies that do not affect the ability of other nations to set their own policies.

In addition, the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines state that search engines should not notify users and site operators that a search result has been removed because this process draws unnecessary attention to the takedown requests.

However, this would further obscure the public record by not informing site operators when portions of their websites have been de-indexed from search engines for certain keywords. This eliminates the possibility for appealing the removal of search results, a process that has already led to numerous webpages removals being reinstated, such as those on the Guardian’s website in July. If the European Union wants to continue to enforce these rules within their own borders, then it is better to create a transparent, open system by which the public can monitor the law’s impact.

The Right to be Forgotten is a shortsighted and ultimately harmful policy for the overall structure of the Internet, and the Working Group’s guidelines will only enhance the negative effects. At the very least, the implementation of the policy should be limited to European nations so that these impacts will not be seen by the world as a whole.

For more information about the detrimental nature of this policy, see this previous post.

Picture Credit: Robert Scoble

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About the author

Alan McQuinn is a research analyst at ITIF. His research areas include a variety of issues related to emerging technology and Internet policy, such as cybersecurity, privacy, virtual currencies, e-government, and commercial drones. Prior to joining ITIF, McQuinn was a telecommunications fellow for Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and an intern for the Federal Communications Commission in the Office of Legislative Affairs. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in public relations and political communications.