Months after the European Union’s high court ruled that Google must honor Internet users’ “right to be forgotten,” the Internet giant set up a review panel of experts to process the claims — most of whom would likely vote against petitioners.
Google officially released the names of its 10-person advisory council tasked with sifting through public requests to remove certain outdated or damning bits of information online. However, it seems Google, which argued the ruling would promote censorship, hand-picked an advisory board that shared its sentiments.
The committee includes a string of academicians, journalists and privacy experts who will screen European users’ requests and determine whether hiding an article or document will enhance an individual’s privacy. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt and legal counsel David Drummond are also on the review panel, along with French op-ed journalist Sylvie Kauffmann and Frank La Rue, a human rights lawyer and special rapporteur with the United Nations specializing in free speech.
To protect citizens’ privacy, the European Court of Justice decided in May that users can ask Google to remove links to newspaper articles or even legal documents from search results on the case-by-case basis. The court’s controversial ruling ended a years-long battle between Google and the EU over data collection practices and rising privacy concerns. The webpages wouldn’t be deleted entirely but would be unsearchable through Google, giving users some modicum of control over their search results. Public records such as criminal history, however, would likely not be removable because of existing public record laws.
One Google committee member, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, called the EU’s decision a “terrible danger” to free speech in a TechCrunch interview. Wales also said the EU needed to adopt a law similar to the First Amendment to prevent any future harm to civil liberties. “There is no ‘right to be forgotten’ — there is apparently a ‘right’ in Europe to censor some information that you don’t like,” Wales told TechCrunch.
Google started removing articles shortly after the ruling, but was criticized for appearing arbitrary and clumsy. The tech company said it accidentally removed several links from news articles last week.
The EU’s ruling was unclear on how Google should field requests and whether any “removed” information could be found in a search overseas. Besides practicality issues, Google’s biggest concern is how the new mandate could affect people’s right to know, and if it could eventually be applied to private businesses and news sites. Google plans to livestream and publish consultations of “request to be forgotten” deliberations as they happen.