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Unelected peers: EU right to be forgotten is 'unreasonable, unworkable and wrong'

James Temperton
30 Jul 2014
EU flag (Credit: Flickr user Rock Cohen)
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Peers have slammed the EU's controversial right to be forgotten legislation, arguing it is trying to "enforce the impossible"

The EU's controversial right to be forgotten ruling is "unreasonable", according to a damning report from a Lords committee. Peers have blasted the law for being "wrong in principle", arguing it was wrong for companies like Google to pass judgement on what should and shouldn't be censored. 

It labelled the new EU laws as "vague, ambiguous and unhelpful" and said the UK needed to ensure that updated regulations protected information in the public domain. The cross-party committee report warned that the EU was trying to "enforce the impossible" and that regulations were based on criteria that did not reflect modern technology. Peers noted that the legislation was based on a data protection directive issued in 1995, three years before Google was founded.

The European Court of Justice ruled in May that links to irrelevant and outdated information could be removed from search results if people requested. The decision has sparked a furious debate about online censorship and people's right to privacy.

Chair of the committee Baroness Prashar said that companies such as Google should not be seen as "data controllers", adding that new regulations were needed to better reflect modern technology. In a hugely critical report the Baroness argued that people should not be able to censor "lawfully available information […] simple because they do not like what is said".

The report said it should never be left up to search engines to police and censor the internet and that smaller companies risked by swamped by removal requests. Google has been inundated with requests since the law was passed and is currently handling around 1,000 per day. Peers noted that Google was currently dealing with over a quarter of a million URLs.

The committee issued its report after hearing evidence from Google, the UK Information Commissioner's Office, data protection experts and the minister for justice and civil liberties Simon Hughes. The minister said he welcomed support from the Lords as the government seeks to negotiate new European data protections legislation.

"I agree that it is neither accurate nor helpful to say that the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice has given a right to be forgotten. We need to be clear that the judgment does not give individuals an unfettered right to have their personal data deleted from search engine results," he said.

The right to be forgotten ruling has proven hugely controversial. The EU has reportedly expressed grave concerns about how Google is implementing the new legislation, with executive chairman Eric Schmidt labelling the ruling "wrong". In May Schmidt said the legislation went "too far". Early removal requests reportedly came from an ex-politician, a convicted paedophile and a doctor, with Google so far receiving more than 70,000 requests to remove links.

Removal requests also have little effect, with people easily able to find censored results by using the US version of Google. Websites who are subjec to removal requests are also being contacted by Google to explain what pages are being censored from search results. This has led  many websites, including BBC News and The Guardian, to publish news stories revealing what articles have been removed from Google.

Google has said that working out how to handle removal requests was a learning process, with the search giant creating an advisory panel to debate the issue.

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