Privacy, Transparency and the Right to Be Forgotten

Aug 20, 2014 12:50pm

Privacy and right to be forgotten

The Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus recently held an event and panel discussion about the May 2014 “right to be forgotten” ruling in Europe. The ruling, made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), says that Google and other search engines must consider requests by European Union (EU) citizens who are not public figures to remove incorrect, out-of-date or irrelevant search results in response to search queries for their names. According to The Register, as of Aug. 6, Google has approved more than half of the tens of thousands of requests it has received to take down information over the last three months. Since May, many concerns have been raised regarding how the “right to be forgotten,” intended to protect citizens’ privacy, could limit access to important information and compromise transparency. Additionally, some have voiced concerns about how the ruling could impact American Internet users in the event that search engines deleted requested results not only within the EU but globally.

The event began with Internet Caucus Advisory Committee fellow Michael Kubayanda and Yahoo Tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, who gave background information about the ruling. The technology, privacy and media experts on the panel then discussed the intentions and positive and negative implications of the ruling.

According to Mike Godwin, senior policy advisor at Internews, the growth of the web and the availability of search engines have given individuals across the globe the opportunity to seek and share information freely with one another. Panelist Emma Llansó, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Project on Free Expression, explained that under the ruling, some information could be true and lawfully posted online, but it could still be unlawful to link to that information on a search engine, which raises some concerns regarding the availability of a free and public web.

Joe Jerome, policy counsel for the Future of Policy Forum, said that one of the most important things about the ruling is that it kicks off a conversation about what data protection principles should be put into the new regulation and how it will be implemented. Additionally, David Hoffman, director of security policy and privacy at Intel and NCSA board member, explained that the court is wrestling with whether a search engine is acting simply as an intermediary that provides links to information or making its own determination of what information is most relevant in a search query by using its technology to scan web pages and selling and pairing advertising to the results. Hoffman also mentioned the questions about who is in the best position to determine how good a job a search engine does in providing relevant search results. Llansó discussed the challenges search engines face as a result of this ruling, including the potential for Internet users to view search engines as reputation management tools and value them less as places to find relevant information.

After discussing the positive and negative reactions to the ruling, the panelists discussed the opportunity that policymakers now have to weigh in on how the new regulation will be implemented in Europe and made recommendations for handling the implementation. Joe Jerome, policy counsel for the Future of Policy Forum, suggested that individuals should have access to better reputation management tools and better ways to respond to negative Internet content about them. Godwin and Llansó suggested that search providers should be as transparent as possible about altering which links a user sees when performing a search online because of third-party requests to remove certain links.  Additionally, Hoffman suggested that Internet search providers should receive guidance from a centralized body on how to implement the regulation fairly.

As the Internet becomes more widely used every day, it becomes more important than ever to understand how to manage your digital life safely and securely. NCSA’s Privacy Library ( provides a variety of tools to help Internet users understand cookies and behavioral tracking, identity theft, the importance of safeguarding information and other aspects of online safety.

For more information about the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, a recording of the panel discussion and other news and upcoming events, visit