The controversial “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) European directive, which allows individuals to ask Google to remove links to stories about them, has taken a further twist.
The tech giant has now been ordered by a UK regulator to follow up on RTBF de-indexing by removing links that were indexed after subsequent news articles appeared.
With the issue of internet censorship becoming an ever more contentious issue, the latest developments are being watched closely by news feed providers and pressure groups alike.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has stepped in and ordered the removal of further links relating to a ten-year-old criminal offence by an individual. Google had previously removed links after a request was made under the RTBF rule, but new stories subsequently appeared about the removal itself.
These new items were then indexed by Google’s search engine and are the subject of the latest demand from the UK regulator.
Google had refused to remove links to the new posts that had appeared after the first round of link removals, claiming they were an essential part of a new and recent news story.
The company said it believed the new articles were “in the public interest” and had “journalistic content.” The ICO countered that it wasn’t necessary to mention the individual conviction and other facts in order to report on the RTBF controversy.
The ICO summed up its view by claiming “That [public] interest can be adequately and properly met without a search made on the basis of the complainant’s name.”
The new round of de-indexing demands takes the whole issue of the RTBF process into a grey area. Whilst the ICO could be seen to be simply enforcing the original request, other commentators are concerned that the new moves are the thin end of the wedge for creeping censorship of the internet.
If the new stories are reporting on the RTBF process itself as a legitimate issue of public interest, then a case needs to be made. If, however, they are simply a cynical attempt to bypass the de-linking process, then the ICO is surely right to make the new demands.
It is an ongoing story that is sure to develop over the coming months.