Right to reply: ‘Right to be Forgotten’ impossible to police?

This week the European Court of Justice ruled that an internet search engine is (albeit indirectly) required to remove links to inaccurate or irrelevant search results. Luca Schiovani, analyst at Ovum argues that the move could be a step backwards for the industry.

This move may sound reassuring for individuals and their personal freedom; however, it also looks difficult to enforce on a large scale, and may be very disruptive for the functioning of search engines going forward.”
This decision sets a precedent whereby, upon request, search engine providers will have to update their search results when it is found that they point to information that is no longer relevant or accurate with regard to a person. The Court has argued that, while a search engine cannot be considered as the “controller” of personal data in a third party website, it is a “controller” of the index of the search engine which links key words to the relevant URL addresses; it may technically block certain search results. As such, it has to comply with the obligations of a “data controller” set out in the EC’s Directive on Data Protection of 1995.
Policy makers in the EU have long advocated for the introduction of a clear “right to be forgotten”, which is included in the draft of the new Data Protection regulation under discussion in the EU Parliament and Council. However, these provisions should only apply to the direct controllers of personal data (e.g. a social network complying with the request to fully delete information related to an account); involving search engines for something they are not directly responsible for is likely to entail a burdensome cost, especially if the amount of requests of erasure should escalate in the future.
By Luca Schiovani