UK Gov't Agency Says It Can't Talk About Its Employees' Use Of 'Right To Be Forgotten' Requests

from the law-itself-prevents-any-discussion dept

One of the biggest problems (hard to pick just one...) with Europe's "right to be forgotten" is that it completely fails to consider the fact that those being asked to forget won't take this sort of government intrusion kindly, especially when requests are more related to burying embarrassments than restoring privacy.

It's been one backfire after another since the debacle began. Every notable request seems to be accompanied by a story about the removal, resulting in the generation of even more web content to be targeted for selective amnesia.

Everyone wants to know who's asking to be forgotten and why. A FOI requester in the UK has asked the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change to provide this information on its own employees.

Thank you for your email of 15 August 2014 where you requested the following information:

- “How many times have Ministers in your department, or staff from your department on those Ministers’ behalf, applied to Google or other search engines to have links removed from searches under the ‘right to be forgotten’ following the EU ruling earlier this year?
- Please break this figure down by minister.
- Please detail the web pages run by your department which have been served a notice by Google that they will not be appearing in certain search results as a result of the right to be forgotten.
- How many person-hours have been spent by your staff dealing with the ‘right to be forgotten’ (e.g. writing to or liaising with Google about removal requests)“.
The request pits government transparency against government opacity -- although the latter has been generously extended to European citizens with the "right to be forgotten" law. Unsurprisingly, transparency loses, but only inasmuch as the new law ensures transparency will lose.
To the extent that the “Right to be Forgotten” ruling provides that Individuals (in any capacity “official” or otherwise) have the right - under certain conditions - to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them where the information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing, the department holds no “official” information pursuant to your request.
Certainly not the desired response, but the desired response would undermine the law, which the UK government really can't do. If UK citizens can ask privately to be forgotten, so can public officials. The wording in the response spins the law positively, which is also expected. The only thing the government could have responded to without undermining the law it has to enforce is total up the hours spent dealing with the paperwork.

Presumably, similar requests have been made to other UK government agencies and presumably they will be greeted with similar responses. While this doesn't shed much light on how many government officials and employees are seeking to cleanse the net of information, we can be assured that any notable request will be duly noted by the entities being asked to forget. The UK government can't answer these questions without negating this (very questionable) right, but the private sector can still let the world know who wants what gone. One of the best checks against government power is the public itself -- even when it's citizens themselves who are using a bad law to request dubious removals.

Filed Under: right to be forgotten, secrecy, uk, uk government


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 Sep 2014 @ 7:19am

    Those that forget history are bound to repeat it. I'm sure quite a few tyrants and war criminals would love to be forgotten...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:43am

    The first rule of the right to be forgotten club: don't talk about the right to be forgotten club

    The second rule of the right to be forgotten club: what club?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:45am

    Wrong question

    They should have asked how many person-hours and actual cash has been spent. The answers to those questions would open the relevant agencies to a whole lot more scrutiny. That scrutiny would probably do more damage to any politician/bureaucrat than any direct attack because there will always be unanswered, niggling little inconsistencies, and those can be dangerous to a career.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:48am

      Re: Wrong question

      They should have asked how many person-hours and actual cash has been spent.


      They did ask about person-hours. The reply was that they had no information. Asking about cash would almost certainly have resulted in the same answer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:56am

        Re: Re: Wrong question

        Whoops, sorry I missed that, as reading the other questions brought me to the point where they were too direct (and personal).

        If they had only asked the last question, and gotten that response, then the agency could be investigated for irresponsible management.

        Asking 'when did you stop beating your wife' in not going to get a responsive answer. Asking how much money was spent on said wife at the emergency room (something actually provable) would eventually lead back to why said wife was in the emergency room.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:46am

    They aren't saying they can't talk about it; they're saying they don't have the information. (Or at least, they don't have any "official" information, whatever that means.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:52am

    One US govt official claims that Google, etc., is making it nearly impossible to construct new identities for witness protection & undercover agents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:53am

    What these people don't understand is that each right-to-be-forgotten request generates a new - and news-worthy - piece of information. And every attempt to quash that information generates new information. And so on, ad infinitum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 9:57am

    considering the CoLP refused to give out information following a FOIA request recently, because any cost over £450, i think, made the process too expensive. on top of that, the same bunch reckoned it would take too long (although they had spent an inordinate amount of time tracking a site admin because they wanted to screw him into the ground even though what he was doing wasn't/isn't against the law) to find the info. all this law has done is allow the EU governments to refuse to do the part of their job, when asked, that keeps citizens updated with what is going on. you can bet your life that if an FIAO was wanted to get someone into court, it wouldn't matter how long it took or what it cost. this is the selective side that governments and security forces wanted. they can get as much info on the people as possible but the people are not allowed to request info on celebrities or well known ministers!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 10:03am

    I would love to be forgotten...

    ...by everyone but the payroll department.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2014 @ 10:10am

    I can perhaps see an argument for "forgetting" private acts (not that I like it, want it or agree with it, but I can see the argument), but a "right to forget" actions by public officials in their official capacity? Or using public resources? This isn't a "right to forget", it's a "right to sweep inconvenient facts under the carpet so that the public can't make decisions on the basis of information that it has every moral right to possess".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 9 Sep 2014 @ 1:50pm

    The UK Dept. of Energy and Climate Change can't answer the FOIA request on employees applying for the Right to be Forgotten because they can't remember who asked to be forgotten.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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