'Right to be forgotten' ruling is unworkable and misguided, UK Lords say

The UK government should fight to keep the 'right to be forgotten' out of future EU data protection regulation, the Lords said

The EU court ruling that gives people the "right to be forgotten" by search engines is misguided in principle and unworkable in practice, said a U.K. House of Lords subcommittee Wednesday.

A May ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave EU citizens the right to compel search engines to remove results in Europe for queries that include a person's name, if the results are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive."

Since the ruling, Google has received over 91,000 take-down requests concerning 328,000 links to Web addresses.

In a report that blasted the court ruling, the House of Lords EU Home Affairs, Health and Education subcommittee advised the U.K. government to fight to ensure that the EU data protection regulations currently being reformed will not include any provision on the "right to be forgotten" or "right to erasure," in a report that blasted the court ruling.

The Lords heard evidence from data protection experts, the Information Commissioner's Office, the Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties, and Google. The sub-committee also noted that the ruling was based on the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive, three years before Google was founded.

"Neither the 1995 Directive, nor the CJEU's interpretation of it, reflects the incredible advance in technology that we see today," said Usha Prashar, the subcommittee chairman, in a statement accompanying the report.

The ruling did not take into account the effect on smaller search engines that, unlike Google, are unlikely to have the resources to process the thousands of removal requests they are likely to receive, she said.

"It is also wrong in principle to leave search engines themselves the task of deciding whether to delete information or not, based on vague, ambiguous and unhelpful criteria. We heard from witnesses how uncomfortable they are with the idea of a commercial company sitting in judgment on issues like that," Prashar said.

Moreover, there are compelling arguments that search engines should not be classed as data controllers in the new EU data protection regulation, she said, adding that the Lords do not believe that individuals should be able to have links to accurate and lawfully available information about them removed, simply because they do not like what is said.

It is difficult to make legislation that can be applied to unforeseen leaps that technology is bound to make, Prashar said. "We do, however, need to ensure that the next Regulation does not attempt to give individuals rights which are unenforceable," she said.

Search engines and EU data protection authorities have also found the ruling difficult to execute. Google, for instance, described the guidelines for removing query results as "very vague and subjective."

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo met last week with European data protection authorities to discuss the ruling. The authorities called the meeting to get input on future guidelines to ensure a consistent implementation of the take-down ruling by search engines and on consistent handling of complaints lodged with authorities by people whose requests are denied.

However, questions about the implementation remained after the meeting. The authorities gave the search engines until Thursday to answer additional questions in writing.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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