Right to be Forgotten

  Jun 05, 2020

Right to be Forgotten

What is the ‘right to be forgotten’?

The right to be forgotten, also called the right to erasure, involves the claim of an individual to have certain online data deleted so that third persons can no longer trace them. It has been defined as the right to silence on past events in life that are no longer relevant.  The right to be forgotten leads to allowing individuals to have information, videos, or photographs about themselves deleted from certain internet records so that they cannot be found by search engines. The reason for deletion may be because the information is outdated, false, damaging or unnecessary.

Why is it in news?

In 2019 September, European Court of Justice ruled that the “right to be forgotten” online enjoyed by the citizens of the European Countries is confined to the geography of the EU and does not extend beyond the borders of the European Union. Search engine operators like Google faced no obligation to remove information outside the EU.

What is the historical background?

The case originated in a dispute between Google and the French privacy regulator CNIL, which in 2015 called for the firm to globally remove links to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.

Google introduced a geo-blocking feature in 2016 following year, which stopped European users from being able to see delisted links. However, it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world.

The technology firm argued that, if this rule were applied outside Europe, the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.

Is right to privacy the same as right to be forgotten? How are the two related?

The right to be forgotten is distinct from the right to privacy. Right to privacy constitutes information that should not be in public domain at all.  Whereas the right to be forgotten involves removing information that was publicly known at a certain time and is no longer necessary for the public. 

Does it have a nexus with the right to reputation?

In India, the apex court ruled that right to reputation is a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution in the Subramanya Swamy vs Union of India case in 2015. It also plays a part in legalising the right to be forgotten.

Right to be forgotten is not an absolute right. What does it mean?

The right to be forgotten is not an absolute right and has to be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with proportionality.

There are many criteria to determine whether the right to be forgotten is to be honoured or not. The balance between right to privacy and protection of personal data, on the on hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, decides the outcome of the request of the individual for deletion of information.

There should be a balance between sensitive personal data and the public interest and that no one country should be able to impose its rules on citizens of another.

How do views differ on the right?

Views on the right to be forgotten differ greatly between the United States and EU countries. In the United States, the following rights have been favoured over the right to be forgotten.