A Google panel of experts held a public meeting in Paris yesterday on how to implement the European Union Court of Justice ruling on the “right to be forgotten.” Reporters Without Borders and La Quadrature du Net (another Paris-based NGO) are of the view that a private-sector company is not qualified to make such recommendations, and they are issuing their own recommendations for the public authorities to consider.
How do you strike a balance between protection of privacy and the right to information? This is the question that search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing have had to address since 12 May, when the EUCJ issued its very controversial ruling in the case of Google v. Costeja. The ruling obliges search engines to purge their search results of links to content affecting an individual’s privacy if the individual so requests. It enshrines a right to be forgotten and turns private-sector companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft into arbiters of our fundamental freedoms. Google has been holding a series of public meetings on this subject in leading European capitals. Yesterday the California-based company’s advisory committee was meeting the public in Paris. The declared aim of these consultations is to define the rules for implementing the “right” to be removed from search results that stems from the EUCJ ruling. A commercial company that is not subject to any democratic control cannot be a legitimate arbiter. At the same time, national data protection agencies such as France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Freedoms (CNIL) – which are given the last word in any dispute between the search engine and the individual who wants to be forgotten – have neither the power nor competence to ensure a balance between privacy and freedom of information. It is up to legislators to determine this delicate balancing act. Reporters Without Borders and La Quadrature du Net have spent several weeks drafting a set of recommendations for the authorities that will allow respect for privacy to be reconciled with freedom of expression. The recommendations are also intended to provide ordinary citizens with a better understanding of what is at stake in the right to be forgotten, so that they, in turn, can press for a sustainable balance between these two fundamental rights.