The Right to be Forgotten emerged from people’s desire to control the course of their lives without being forever or periodically stigmatised as a result of past behaviour.
It is an incredible tool to digitally erase unwanted details to enable you to have a fresh start in life, by avoiding the terror of undesirable data on the internet. Google reports that as of 21st May 2021, it has received requests from the United Kingdom for 578,217 webpages, of which 47.1 percent have been agreed to be filtered.
If you search for your name on Google, it will generate all the data held about you online, and that should show anything you may wish to remove and do not want to be associated with anymore. We all make errors as humans but allowing certain material to dwell on the internet could have negative implications, such as losing a job or having to deal with uncomfortable queries from friends or loved ones. This is especially unjust if the information that has been captured in correspondence to a particular search containing your name as the subject, is incorrect, deceptive or simply outdated.
There are several options for dealing with negative search engine results. The typical methodology pursued is the elimination of the source material. This is accomplished by engaging in conversation with, or pursuing legal action against, the original material’s author, the webmaster, the hosting firm, the registrar, registry or even the ISP. These options, however, are not always appropriate or cost-effective. In some cases, approaching search engine operators may be advisable (e.g., Google).
Google, as a search engine, has the ability to remove website pages from the indexed lists that appear when you search for your name. This means that while the source material remains on the web, explicit URLs/website pages will not show up against a search of your name for looking within the UK and EU. The rational impact of this is that the site pages being referred to are fundamentally less inclined to be reached by individuals who know you or who are attempting to find data about you.
The Right to be Forgotten sprung from a case called Google Spain. For the first time, the right was codified and included in Article 17 of the General Data Protection Regulation (regulating citizens’ right to Data Protection). Individuals have the right to have their personal data erased under Article 17 of the UK GDPR. This influential right is also most commonly referred to as, ‘The Right to be Forgotten’. The right isn’t absolute, and it only applies in specific situations.
In April 2018, the High Court of England and Wales released the first delisting order in the NT 1 & NT 2 case, ordering Google to remove links when it rejected a submission. This decision specifies some directions when search results should be excluded from the list. The GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018 went into effect in May 2018. For the first time, a ‘Right to Erasure’ was incorporated into statutory law. The ‘UK GDPR’ has been implemented into domestic legislation following the UK’s exit from the EU.
In the form of search engine results, the Right to be Forgotten applies to an individual’s right not to have their personal data (usually their name) processed if the processing is “inadequate, meaningless, no longer important, or unnecessary.” When their names are searched, individuals have the right to request Google or other search engine operators to filter those results. The content could be based on outdated news items, blog or bulletin board comments, or even expunged convictions. If a person objects, the Right to be Forgotten recognises that old material such as this should not be returned indefinitely while looking up their name.
Google and search engine providers, as Data Controllers, are bound by regulation to handle personal data in accordance with the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act. Personal data must be processed fairly and legitimately, be “sufficient, relevant, and not excessive,” and be accurate, according to the principles.
The ‘right to be forgotten’ is not absolute. This means that Google and other search engine providers may refuse to filter results in certain instances. This usually happens when a “predominant public interest” outweighs an individual’s data privacy rights. An individual convicted of serious sexual offences, for example, is highly unlikely to persuade a search engine operator that search results should be filtered. Nevertheless, there are several ambiguous circumstances, such as when a person has committed a small offence and there is a strong case to be made that they should be free to move on with their lives without the burden of negative search engine results against their name.
If you have any queries in relation to this article, please contact Jane Whitfield on [email protected] or 0118 958 9711.
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Jane Whitfield can meet with you to discuss your personal circumstances, your options and your next steps. This would normally take place in our office in Reading, Berkshire. During the coronavirus situation, however, all of our meetings are currently being carried out either by telephone or by video link.
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Jane is a Solicitor specialising in Private Client matters. Jane is a qualified Trusts & Estate Practitioner with STEP (Society of Trusts & Estates Practitioners) and a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly, as well as being a Dementia Friends Champion. Jane is also President of the Berks, Bucks & Oxfordshire Law Society.