The ‘right to be forgotten’ by Google

Posted: 23rd April 2018

Google searchThe ‘right to be forgotten’ has been given substance by a landmark case in which a businessman succeeded in having references to a past criminal conviction de-listed by Google, so that they will no longer appear in the search results.

The man had some years ago been involved in a controversial business that was the focus of public opposition in respect of its environmental practices. More than a decade had passed since he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to carry out surveillance in connection with that business and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.

The conviction had several years ago become ‘spent’, within the meaning of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. However, Internet users who entered the man’s name into Google were still shown links to 11 source publications that referred to his offence. Lawyers on his behalf launched novel proceedings, claiming that that amounted to a breach of data protection rules and a misuse of private information.

In directing Google to de-list the relevant publications, the Court noted that the right asserted by the man might be better described as a right not to be remembered inaccurately. A national newspaper item concerning the man’s crime and punishment was misleading as to the nature of his criminality and other matters.

The online information had become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to Google users to justify its continued availability. The man, who now worked in a quite different business field, had frankly acknowledged his guilt and had expressed genuine remorse, and there was no evidence of any risk of repetition.

In refusing to award compensation, however, the Court found that Google had established the reasonable care defence contained within the Data Protection Act 1998. Another businessman who made similar complaints had his claim dismissed, primarily on the basis that the online information concerning him was accurate and there was a continuing public interest in its publication.