A ruling by Europe’s highest court that people have a “right to be forgotten”, which has this week seen search engines like Google remove a countless number of links unwanted by their subjects , has set a dangerous precedent.
Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University, Margaret Simons, says the law undoes the vast amount of progress that has been made in ensuring human memory and history is preserved.
“Most of the work that has been done on the nature of forgetting by academics and literary authors has been to lament the fact that we’re too likely to forget,” Ms Simons said.
The case that brought the issue to a head was a bid by Mario Costeja Gonzalez to wipe links to a 1998 auction notice for his repossessed home in a Spanish newspaper.
The court found in Gonzalez’ favour, which has led to tens of thousands of applications to search engines for similar deletions.
Google has been inundated with requests for links to be removed – more than 40,000 in the first four days after the ruling, according to CNN. The search company came under scrutiny this week by journalists including The Guardian’s James Ball for deleting links that would normally appear when searched for using only specific terms – for example, a subject’s name or even, it seems, the name of a person who commented on the article – based on perceived relevancy.
Do we really have a right to be forgotten? “Absolutely not,” Ms Simons said.
“We have a right to privacy and that’s a whole different debate…that was the exactly the pivot of the debate that we had around news media regulation in the last few years in Australia.
“It is, of course, a concern when there is inaccurate information out there or information that is under dispute,” Ms Simons said, “but I would much rather see a legislated right of reply or legislated right to correction than a legislated right to forget. “
Ms Simons believes it is only a matter of time before similar case law arrives in Australia and an appeal to the international precedent will be made.
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