Landmark Court Decision Means Canada Has Now Joined The 'Right To Be Forgotten Globally' Club

from the long-reach-of-the-moosen dept

Techdirt has written plenty about the controversial "right to be forgotten" -- strictly speaking, a right to be de-listed from search engine results in general, and from Google in particular. Although most people associate this with the European Union, which pioneered the approach, the idea has now spread to other countries, including South Korea, China and Japan. In an interesting article in The Globe and Mail, Michael Geist suggests that Canada has now joined the club:

the Federal Court of Canada issued a landmark ruling that paves the way for a Canadian version of the right to be forgotten that would allow courts to issue orders with the removal of Google search results on a global basis very much in mind.

The details of the case are rather unusual. They involve a website in Romania that obtained and posted Canadian judicial and tribunal decisions. These were all public documents, but they were not previously indexed by Google, which meant their contents were effectively hidden. The Romanian site allowed its copies to be indexed by Google, which made the decisions and the Canadian citizens involved visible for the first time -- something the people affected were not happy about. They complained to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who ruled that the Romanian site violated Canadian privacy law. The case then moved to Canada's federal court, which ruled that it had jurisdiction over the website in Romania, since it had strong connections with Canada through its holdings. It then went on to make a declaratory order:

The court noted that the declaration could be used to submit a request to Google seeking the removal of the offending links from its search database. While acknowledging that there was no guarantee that Google would act, it was persuaded by the Privacy Commissioner that "this may be the most practical and effective way of mitigating the harm caused to individuals since the respondent is located in Romania with no known assets."

As Geist notes, whether or not it was the federal court's intention, it seems to have created the Canadian equivalent of a right to be de-listed from search results:

While more onerous than a direct request to Google, the court's approach suggests there is now a road map for the global removal of search results of content that may be factually correct, but which also implicates the privacy rights of individuals.

One indirect effect of this ruling will be to strengthen the idea that there is some kind of "right to be forgotten globally," which will itself probably encourage people in other countries to bring privacy cases that seek to spread it yet further.

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Filed Under: canada, free speech, privacy, right to be forgotten


Reader Comments

The First Word

The TD article is missing a crucial fact, where illucidates the Court's ruling.

For those folk who always make a point a commenting without reading the source material: "The case – A.T. v. Globe24H.com – involves a Romanian-based website that downloaded thousands of Canadian judicial and tribunal decisions, posted them online and demanded fees for their swift removal."

While there's a substantial difference of degree, the Romanian website's business model is essentially revenge porn blackmail.

From what I can discern, in the 'States, as long as someone is able to make a buck, any activity is considered, uh, legitimate. And anyone who pays you a salary, owns you, like a master owns a slave. This applies also when you're not 'on the clock'.

In Canada, it's a little different. For example, in 2012 the 'Supreme Court rule[d] employees have right to privacy on work computers'. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/supreme-court-rules-employees-have-right-to -privacy-on-work-computers/article4625660/

In fact, there's even a federal officer of Parliament, the Privacy Commissioner, whose job is, well, privacy.

Some people here may remember Jennifer Stoddard, who investigated Facebook, getting them to institute privacy protections for its users. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/careers-leadership/jennifer-stoddar t-making-your-privacy-her-business/article1319261/?page=all

That and, if you've committed a crime and done the time, there is room for forgive and forget - we even allow prisoners, like those actually in prison, to vote in elections.

I know, I know, that sounds like crazy talk! But considering the crime and incarceration rates in Canada vs. those in the 'States, I'll take our system, any day.

So, no, I'm not really surprised about the court ruling, however impractical it is.

—ThaumaTechnician

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2017 @ 5:27am

    I've had this idea where google and other search engines should just outright implement a preentive "right to be forgotten" filter for a couple days, ignoring queries for any name whatsoever and adding a big banner "in light of the recent bout of 'right to be forgotten' requests we have taken steps to safeguard the privacy of every person ever. Do please ask your local representative/politician what your next steps are to prevent this from happening in the future"

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