If you'll recall, one of the NSA's (and TSA, DHS, etc.) foremost apologists, Stewart Baker, decided to highlight the ridiculousness of Europe's "right to be forgotten" ruling by sending in a few requests
of his own. One of the links targeted by Baker's "for demonstration purposes only" requests was the tag "Stewart Baker
" here at Techdirt.
Reason this link violates the right to be forgotten:
This link is inappropriate. It compiles stories making many distorted claims about my political views. Political views are a particularly sensitive form of personal data. The stories are written by men who disagree with me, and they are assembled for the purpose of making money for a website, a purpose that cannot outweigh my interest in controlling the presentation of sensitive data about myself.
While Baker probably wouldn't have been too terribly bothered if Google "forgot" Techdirt's posts, the real point of his academic exercise was to probe for responses from the search giant. Baker didn't do anything to game the system, clearly stated he was an American citizen and provided a copy of his ID as required.
The end result? Nothing that Baker challenged was removed
, but the responses show that Google is at least following up on "right to be forgotten" requests from extra-jurisdictional requesters, rather than simply telling them the law doesn't apply to them.
Would Google honor a takedown request made by a person who wasn’t a UK or EU national? The answer appears to be yes. Google’s response does not mention my nationality as a reason for denying my requests. This is consistent with Europe’s preening view that its legal “mission civilisatrice” is to confer privacy rights on all mankind. And it may be the single most important point turned up by this first set of hacks, because it means that lawyers all around the world can start cranking out takedown requests for Belorussian and Saudi clients who don’t like the way they look on line.
That's not a promising development. Google may not be enforcing anything but the letter of the law, but the examination of requests coming from outside the ruling's jurisdiction means Google is also somewhat acquiescing to the spirit of the ruling. But when it came to delisting information, Google drew the line for reasons unrelated to requester origin.
In an effort to see whether Google would let me get away with blatant censorship of my critics, I asked for deletion of a page from Techdirt that seems to be devoted to trashing me and my views…
To American ears, such a claim is preposterous, but under European law, it’s not. Google, thank goodness, still has an American perspective: “Our conclusion is that the inclusion of the news article(s) in Google’s search results is/are – with regard to all the circumstances of the case we are aware of – still relevant and in the public interest.” If I had to bet, I’d say that this rather vague statement is the one Google uses when other, more pointed reasons to deny relief don’t work. But the reference to this page as a “news article” suggests that Google may be using a tougher standard in evaluating takedown requests for news media, a term that applies, at least loosely, to Techdirt.
It appears that Google is still very hesitant to remove anything even "loosely" related to news media (a backhanded compliment from Baker!), which is
good news. Not that Baker's quick "hack" approaches anything near empirical research, but at least in terms of boilerplate responses, Google seems to defer to the public interest.
There's no way to tell if that balance would shift more if the requester was actually European, and it would seem from early reports that newsworthy "right to be forgotten requests" are an exercise in futility
even when they do
result in delisting orders. Hitting news media with requests has only resulted in new
news about requester's actions/words he or she wants buried and, possibly more importantly, new
articles, seeing as Google appears to be more protective of recent news.
I’m having trouble finding stuff in my search history that is sufficiently inaccurate or outdated, especially now that we know Google is treating professional activities and news as per se relevant (at least if it’s “recent,” whatever that means).
The RTBF is still a horrible idea that can only
be implemented badly, and it will either get worse as more people find ways to game the system, or simply fall into disrepair as more people (especially anyone considered by Google to be a "public figure") find it nearly impossible to bury past behavior. Like many other internet-targeted rulings, the idea behind it is (somewhat) noble, but the premise is utterly flawed and the actual deployment a complete farce. Google (and other search engines) are in an unenviable situation for the forseeable future, forced to comply with a law that simply can't be complied with.