A European, not global, right to be forgotten

 

“If the CNIL’s proposed approach were to be embraced as the standard for Internet regulation, we would find ourselves in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.

“We believe that no one country should have the authority to control what content someone in a second country can access.”

This week, Google took a stand that we all should support. It stood up against the extraterritorial application of a country’s laws to restrict freedom on the internet. The specific case is the attempt by France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (C.N.I.L.) to require Google to delist links on all of its sites worldwide in order to comply with a right to be forgotten request it receives. Google  currently honours these requests by delisting the link on European Google sites. That makes sense. A European law is applied in Europe.

What the French court is trying to do is worrisome. Google is right to fight it.

At the same time, there is an irony in this situation. Google is taking a stand against the extraterritorial application of a country’s laws. However, when you consider the terms and services we all agree to in order to use sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and virtually all the most popular social sites, you will probably be agreeing to terms and services established according to U.S. standards and governed by California law. In this way, we all are really agreeing to the extraterritorial application of U.S. laws and values – not just on freedom of speech, but also things like copyright and privacy protections.

I applaud Google for standing up for freedom of expression on the Internet on this case. I just hope that my U.S. friends will also be sensitive to the fact that in some ways we all are asked to “become Americans” when we use the Internet. That’s not bad, as long as it always is balanced with a recognition that those of us who live in other countries may have different values that we hold equally dear – and that these values should be respected.

It’s a balancing act that requires that we look at situations carefully and not descend into thoughtless sloganeering.

In the case of right to be forgotten, I think Google has hit the right balance. Respect Europe’s laws in Europe. Now this issue is going before the courts in France. It won’t be decided quickly. It won’t go away. We should pay thoughtful attention.

Context

If you are interested in this subject, here are some posts that I think provide useful context:

CNIL orders Google to apply delisting on all domain names of the search engine

Google Europe Blog: Implementing a European, not global, right to be forgotten

European Court Lets Users Erase Records on Web

‘Right to be forgotten’: How Canada could adopt similar law for online privacy

Facebook questions use of ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling

Consumer group asks FTC to adopt EU’s right to be forgotten

Google accidentally reveals data on ‘right to be forgotten’ requests

  • Roger Kondrat

    Hi Joseph, this is an interesting issue and you make excellent points. It is one that has so many exits and entrances to the issue, so it’s not so much about right or wrong, but simply a subjective compromise between competing interests. For example, what is the reason for the take down order? How exactly they are seeking the data removed from Google? If it’s done incorrectly it would be tantamount to censorship in one country or another. That’s not ok for France (a democratic nation) to ask of other nations under most circumstances.

    I look forward to seeing what happens with all extraterritorial laws, because it seems to me they are being created in record numbers. It’s a little scary that I can be in Canada, going about my day-to-day and be breaking a law in another country that could one day land me in jail on a vacation 10 years later. Scary stuff!!