The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Google to remove search results linking to news stories about the removal of information under the 2014 “right to be forgotten” ruling. Under the “right to be forgotten” ruling, Europeans who feel they are being misrepresented by search results that are no longer accurate or relevant—for instance, information about old financial matters, or misdeeds committed as a minor—can ask search engines like Google to delink the material. If the request is approved, the information will remain online at the original site, but would no longer come up under certain search engine queries.
Google had previously removed links relating to an offense committed by an individual almost 10 years ago. At the time, the individual had requested removal of the links under the “right to be forgotten” ruling. Several publications produced news stories detailing this removal request, and it became a news story in itself. Google retained links to those articles, and they still appeared in the search results for the individual’s name. The individual complained—and now the ICO has ordered Google to remove the newer articles. Google refused to remove links to these later articles, which included details of the original criminal offense. Google argues that these articles are an essential part of a broader news story about the “right to be forgotten,” and that the articles are in the public interest.
Google faces criminal charges and financial sanctions if it does not comply with the ICO’s order. These criminal consequences and fines may have a dire effect on Google’s ability to freely distribute information.
The “right to be forgotten” ruling gives European nations a mechanism to censor legal information and web pages. Not only does the ICO want to invoke the right to be forgotten, but it also wants to erase evidence that it implemented the policy. The EU designed this law to protect privacy, but these new developments are an unsettling new leap into government censorship.
However, Europeans can still use American Google to get uncensored information. European governments cannot force Google to alter results on its American search engine. The “right to be forgotten” ruling restricts Google.co.uk, but leaves Google.com untouched. European governments may eventually try to patch this hole. But for now, the right to be forgotten disappears at the American border.