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Dr Rasmus Kleis, Professor George Brock, Dr Paul Bernal, Peter Barron
Julia Massey Stewart
Politics & Law Series: Research Spotlight

Experts discuss ‘right to be forgotten’ at City book launch

Professor George Brock presented the findings of his study into the ‘right to be forgotten’

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

Professor George BrockExperts at a City event have discussed the ‘right to be forgotten’ and the findings of a new book about the subject by Professor George Brock.

The academic presented the key outcomes of his work on the issue at a panel discussion hosted by the Department of Journalism and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).

The right to be forgotten requires Google to remove web pages from search results if complainants argue they contravene EU data protection law.

However, Professor Brock claimed the ruling was “a muddled, sweeping solution which fails to clarify a specific remedy to a specific problem”.

He also argued that the “careless” way the ruling addresses the conflicting rights to privacy and freedom of speech has “opened risks to freedom of speech”.

“My study, The Right to Be Forgotten – Privacy and the Media in the Digital Age, does not argue that wanting something to be forgotten is wrong,” he said. “The problem lies with data protection law – principally in the EU – which fails to balance the competing rights.”

In his presentation, Professor Brock explained Google had taken down 1.72 million URLs after receiving 566,000 requests since an EU Court of Justice ruling in 2014. Despite this, it is not known how exactly the company makes its judgements on which links should be delisted, with its principles made “virtually in secret”, according to the academic.

He also pointed out there was a “major unsolved problem” about how far the right reaches and if delisting should occur regionally or across the world.

Professor Brock was joined on the panel by Peter Barron, head of communications for Google in the Europe, Middle East and Africa. Mr Barron said the right to be forgotten process had worked “by and large” and Google Right to be forgotten presentationhad accepted it must comply with the law, even though it disagreed with the original ruling.

However, he said Google had concerns with “alarming” ways that the rule was applied in the courts of different countries in Europe. Mr Barron also said that a company such as Google was not the most appropriate organisation to deal with complaints about controversial content being on the internet.

“We never sought this duty,” he said. “We obviously fought very hard against it and argued that we don’t think it’s right for a company like Google… to make these extremely nuanced decisions to balance privacy and free speech. We think those decisions are better made in court.”

The third panel member was Dr Paul Bernal, a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of East Anglia, who said the issue was “a complex and a fuzzy subject” and it was difficult to use an approach that was “too principled and precise”. He said the most important outcome of the original ruling was that it got the world talking about the issue.

“It started Google thinking seriously about it and in a way that’s actually the most important thing, because Google has a huge amount of power in this situation,” he said.

The Right to Be Forgotten – Privacy and the Media in the Digital Age was published by I. B. Tauris in the RISJ CHALLENGES series. The event was co-organised by City and the RISJ, and was chaired by Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at the RISJ.

Images: Julia Massey Stewart

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