Europe’s highest court said on Tuesday people had the right to influence what the world could learn about them through online searches, a ruling that rejected long-established notions about the free flow of information on the Internet.
A search engine such as Google should allow online users to be “forgotten” after a certain time by erasing links to Web pages unless there are “particular reasons” not to, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg said.
Rose Law Group Cyber-law attorney Chris Ingle says the European court is blazing a brand new trail.
“I have never heard of the ‘right to be forgotten before. I think this probably took Google a little bit by surprise, “ Ingle said. “After all, I don’t think they have any mechanism in place for people to submit requests to have certain information removed. There certainly is not any such mechanism in the United States. That said, I think there will be, and sometime soon.
“Right now, the Internet is largely unregulated. That fosters the free exchange of information and innovation. It comes with a price, though. If someone posts something false about you it can be difficult to get that information removed. Another situation is where something true but unflattering is published – again, it can be very difficult to try to minimize the harm caused by such publications.
“I predict that in the very near future pressure will build on Congress to create a mechanism to remove false or harmful information from the Internet. I think the most likely avenue will be an amendment to the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. Right now that federal law immunized Web sites from lawsuits, so long as they are not the ones who posted the material at issue.
“That means there is no way to force a Web site to remove that information; it simply cannot be done. I think eventually the CDA will be amended to put a system in place similar to the copyright take-down procedure set up by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“The way it works is a person can submit a notice to a Web site complaining that it hosts copyrighted material. The Web site must expeditiously remove the material and send a notice to the person who posted it. If the take-down request is false or in error, the poster can request that the material be restored. If the parties cannot agree on the issue they can work it out in court, without naming the Web site as a party. I think eventually we will have something similar set up under the CDA. It would be a great way to combat things like online defamation, revenge porn, hate sites, etc.
Web sites would be well-advised to be proactive on this issue. Companies that own and operate major websites will probably fair better if they are the ones drafting the proposed legislation and urging Congress to enact it. That way they can create a system that will actually work and that minimizes their liability, which will probably work better for them than simply obeying whatever law Congress comes up with on its own. I know of two websites that are currently working on such legislation, but I do not know whether it has been submitted to Congress, or for that matter whether Congress has plans to take action on this issue.
“Something like this has been a long time coming. The Internet does a lot of good, but it does need a certain minimal amount of regulation to prevent crimes and abuse. I will be interested to see how Google reacts to the order and what kind of system gets put in place.”