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The long arms of the right to be forgotten

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A year ago, a European Court said people had a right to demand Google take down certain search results about them. The right to be forgotten was born.

“That idea is spreading in some areas,” says Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties for the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

Most recently, Google is challenging a ruling by Mexican authorities that Google Mexico must remove embarrassing—but true—search results about a prominent businessman there.

Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea are also considering questions involving the right to be forgotten. Post dictator democracies in Latin America, says Granick, have resisted the notion.

“The real question,” she says, “is as nations adopt a right to be forgotten in their countries how will that affect the internet and search engines as a whole?”

European regulators want Google to take down search results on all versions of Google, not just the European ones. Google has balked at this for now, but it isn’t inconceivable that Europe’s views could reach beyond its borders.

“It surely could,” says Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “Right now, when something is taken down because its alleged to be copyright infringing, Google doesn’t take it down when an American complains under American law from it takes it down from all Google portals.”

He says Google might try to restructure to get out from certain jurisdictions, “or you might even see the American legislature adopt a law telling google not to obey certain orders of a certain kind coming from overseas.”

Google has said it’s received a quarter of a million requests for removal in Europe, from victims of crimes trying to protect their personal information, to politicians trying to cover up misdeeds. Google has rejected 60 percent of those requests.

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