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The right to be forgotten

Last week, an individual won his legal action against Google in connection with what is known as the “right to be forgotten” in a UK High Court case.

The right to be forgotten (also referred to as the right to erasure) is a precedent set by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014. It allows people to request information (about them) to be removed where it is no longer relevant but disproportionately impacts their lives. Search engines can decline to remove such pages if they declare their content to be in the public interest. Google have mentioned that since 2014 there have been 655,000 requests, demanding the removal of almost 2.5 million links.

The individual (referred only as “NT2”) won his legal action to compel Google to remove search results about past criminal convictions. NT2 was convicted of conspiring to intercept communications 10 years ago and spent 6 years in jail as a result. A separate claim brought against Google at the same time by another individual (referred to as “NT1”) was dismissed by the court on the basis that the crime he committed was more serious and therefore the information about his crime should not be removed. Google’s legal representative stated that Google will not allow people to re-write “history” or “tailor [their] past”.

As a result of the ruling, Google (who have generally been reluctant to honour “right to be forgotten”) requests will now be required to remove any historical articles about the businessman intercepting communications in the past. Google has confirmed that it will accept the ruling.

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which comes into force in May this year will incorporate the right to be forgotten under Article 17. The right is not absolute and only applies in certain circumstances including where the personal data is no longer necessary for the purpose it was originally collected for, where consent to hold the data is withdrawn or where the personal data has been processed unlawfully. Parties holding such data that is the subject of such a request shall have one month to respond to it.


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