The news that the Right to be Forgotten ruling has been branded as unworkable and unreasonable by a Lords Select Committee in the UK this week has been welcomed by many, including some who believe that it could lead to censorship via the back door.
However, it is equally clear to many others that the internet is a massively powerful tool for ferreting out and exposing all sorts of information. Furthermore, it has been used by many people with powerful vested interests to erode almost to nothing the privacy that ordinary citizens ought to have a right to enjoy.
It is worth noting that many of the loudest voices welcoming the Lords report came from the British tabloid papers, which also have scant regard for anyone's privacy and never miss an opportunity to pour vitriol over anything related to the European Union. Especially the European Court of Justice, whose ruling led to Google having to comply with requests to have personal details removed from its search engine results.
Let's take a step back and consider what the ruling actually means. It has enabled individuals to request that Google, and other search engines, stop showing links to details about their private lives that they do not wish to show up for a particular search query.
The case that sparked the ruling involved a Spanish man, who apparently wanted to remove references to newspaper articles about an auction of his foreclosed home. The foreclosure had been for a debt that the man had, apparently, subsequently paid.
The important distinction to note is that the article and the information in it was not removed from the newspaper archive itself, but links to the article would no longer show up in Google search queries, which may not have been seeking for that specific information in the first place.
This is not censorship, it is merely making sure that embarrassing personal information that is not anybody else's business is not available to anyone with a browser who may happen to key in the relevant search terms.
Those who argue that this information might prove useful in case the man in question applies for a loan in future are simply missing the point. There are systems and procedures that allow for controlled, authorised checks on data such as a person's credit history; expecting this information to be available to all and sundry via a Google search is simply ludicrous.
Likewise, the notion that Google will be unable to deal with all of the requests to be forgotten seems unlikely when you consider the massive resources that the company has at its disposal. This is a firm that is able to continuously sweep and index a large proportion of the internet, and which reported profits of $3.4bn in the last quarter alone.
The fact is that the internet has led to a distinctly unbalanced state of affairs when it comes to private information. Web giants such as Google and Facebook seemingly take whatever information they can get their hands on and use it to their commercial advantage whenever it suits them, and there is little anyone can do to stop them.
In the face of this uneven match, the Right to be Forgotten is a minor victory for the otherwise powerless individual against faceless, uncaring corporations. The Lords Select Committee may have reservations about it, but that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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