The RTBF (Right to be forgotten) is a hot topic following the Spanish ruling against Google. The fact is that European Google must first evaluate and remove if considered reasonable search results that threaten the requester’s right to personal privacy. It is claimed to be a blow to Freedom of Speech. Google has already received 70,000 requests and receives on average 1000 requests each day! In U.K. claims are being made that it is in conflict with s.32 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

There is a good write-up on discussions following the ruling at: Debate Write-Up: Rewriting History.

Christopher Graham the Information Commissioner gives a good explanation of what it really means, but unfortunately it is lost in the panicked crys of other participants in the debate.

It is very straight-forward: There is claimed to be a the conflict between the Freedom of Speech and Personal Privacy, i.e. in this case the RTBF. However there is not, it is as Graham states:

1) There are two types of parties here: a) the data controller, and b) the journalist;
2) The ruling pertains to the data controller the RTBF, not journalists, so in UK for example, this does not impact s.32 of the Data Protection Act;
3) Just that the search results are not returned by the search engine of the data controller, does not mean that the data does not exist. It is just that is is not searchable;
4) This information pertaining to an individual is still on the website of the newspapers, and should be searchable directly on the website.

So this cannot be likened to ‘burning of books’ or ‘re-writing history’ as in George Orwell’s 1984. It basically means that if, for example an individual defrauded the Inland Revenue 10 years ago:

    – If you search for this person by name, it will not return this name in the result.
    – However if you search for ‘Inland Revenue fraud’ it could return this person’s name in one of the related articles.

What I see is that the main challenge is from a technical perspective. At the moment the onus is on the data controllers to receive requests, to decide if the requester has a valid request for removal from their search engines. However, I believe that this should be done as default by websites of newspapers. This could be difficult because on a technical level it is only possible, that I am aware of today, to exclude whole webpages from Google, not names or specific words.