The European Court of Justice ruled earlier this week that citizens in its jurisdiction have the "right to be forgotten." With this right comes the requirement that Google and other search engines remove links to information that is irrelevant or no longer relevant. Now that the requirement is in place, Google has received more than 1,000 link removal requests.
Among those who reportedly are asking Google to take down links from its search results are a former British politician and a convicted pedophile. Given the broadness of the European High Court's ruling, almost anyone can request that personal data be taken down, effectively getting rid of their past.
The right to be forgotten is a tricky right to provide, as it opens the door for people to scrub away negative things from their past. Since the ruling used the terms "irrelevant" and "no longer relevant," it is hard to tell what sort of data can be removed, since relevancy is determined by context.
Names of individuals who have submitted link removal requests have not been provided but anonymous sources at Google did give an overview of the requests to UK newspaper The Telegraph. So far, a member of British Parliament seeking re-election, an individual convicted of possessing child pornography, and a doctor who received negative reviews online have all made requests, according to The Telegraph.
Individual privacy rights should always be protected but at the same time, there are concerns that the European Union court ruling will have unintended negative consequences to society. Within just three days, more than 1,000 people have asked for links to be removed, and there is no telling how many people will make requests moving forward.
It is concerning to think that someone with a criminal record would be able to have that sort of information removed from Google just because it is no longer relevant. Even if a provision were to be added that excluded criminals from the law, situations could arise where someone was investigated multiple times for a crime like child pornography but never arrested. Then, if that person's information was removed from Google, they could be hired without an employer having easy access to more detailed and important information.
Even people who have fought against the National Security Agency's data collection and spying efforts by other governments don't seem to support the European high court's decision in this case. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales -- who has spoken out against the NSA -- told the BBC on Wednesday that the European ruling is not beneficial for the Internet.
From a practical standpoint, as many people have pointed out since the ruling, Wales does not believe that Google or the EU will be able to enforce the rules. Google has also admitted that it doesn't truly know how to handle the ruling, as all of the requests must be looked at individually.
The overwhelming response to the EU's ruling has been negative, even for people who believe in online privacy. For the most part, people seem to agree with Google's viewpoint that if there is slanderous material online, people should contact the Web site that published it rather than attacking "middle men" like search engines.
If Wales is correct, there is so much opposition to the EU's decision that its ruling "isn't going to stand for very long."