Does a British pedophile deserve the ‘right to be forgotten’ by Google?

LONDON - FEBRUARY 03: The Google logo is reflected in the eye of a girl surfing the internet on February 3, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The Google logo is reflected in the eye of a girl surfing the internet on February 3, 2008 in London, England. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Europe’s highest court ruled that Google must delete some search results people deem embarrassing. The landmark decision introduced the world to the phrase “the right to be forgotten.”

But should everyone have that right? A corrupt politician? A murderer? A man convicted of possessing child pornography?

That question confronted Google on Thursday. More than 1,000 people have now asked the search engine to be forgotten, including a former member of Britain’s Parliament seeking re-election, a doctor who received bad reviews and a convicted pedophile. (None were named in reports Thursday or Friday morning.) Google’s branch in the United Kingdom has received at least 35 such requests, including requests from 20 convicted criminals.

The cases, which there may soon be many more of, highlight a broader clash between one’s personal right to privacy and the public’s right to know.

On Friday morning, it wasn’t clear how Google will handle the requests. Under the ruling, if such personal data “appears to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant,” the search results must be removed.

The company, which said the ruling was “disappointing,” has not specified how it will respond to the cases. According to anonymous sources interviewed by the Telegraph, the “world’s biggest search company says [it has] yet to figure out how to deal with the expected flood of expected requests and will need to build up an ‘army of removal experts’ in each of the 28 European Union countries.”

Google conceded the ruling will have “significant implications for how we handle take-down requests,” a spokesperson told the Irish Examiner. “This is logistically complicated – not least because of the many languages involved and the need for careful review. As soon as we have thought through exactly how this will work, which may take several weeks, we will let our users know.”

The European Court’s ruling does not mean that damning information will be deleted from the Internet —  just the links to the information in a Google search. That means sites such as the Database of UK and Eire Pedophiles, dedicated to “naming and shaming UK convicted pedophiles,” isn’t likely going anywhere. But it may one day be more difficult to find it by searching its members.

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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