ASNE joins amicus brief relating to the 'Right to be Forgotten'
In May 2014, the European Court of Human rights ruled in a case filed by a Spanish citizen against a Spanish newspaper that individuals have the right to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them when the information has become "inaccurate, inadequate or excessive." This concept, which has not taken hold in the United States (and hopefully, never will), has come to be known as "the right to be forgotten." Although it does not mandate removal of the article itself, there is a distinct impact, which one might even call it "functional censorship," because of the fact that most Internet users access content via search engines.
Relevant to this case, a significant number of Internet users worldwide rely on Google. That's why it was so troubling when the French privacy authority La Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés or "CNIL" held that Google had to delist a story about a French citizen not just in France or the EU but worldwide. We originally joined comments filed with the CNIL in this case and have now joined an amicus brief in support of Google in the wake of the CNIL's decision to require worldwide delisting and subject Google to a fine for noncompliance.
Our brief, filed in the highest administrative court in France and joined by 29 media organizations and companies, argues that extraterritorial application of the right to be forgotten violates both international and domestic law in the areas of freedom of expression and freedom of information. It also violates the fundamental principle of international law that all countries must "avoid unreasonable interference with the sovereign authority of other nations." The case will have a significant impact on press freedom because it will prevent news articles from being found by readers and sources of information and relevant facts from being found by reporters. It will also threaten free speech generally as aggrieved individuals might "forum shop" their way to France or other more restrictive countries and seek extraterritorial application of the right to be forgotten or other more nefarious laws, such as laws that are used to quash dissent or criticism in the name of "national security" or "preventing obscenity." The eventual result of this decision might be that countries with the least amount of press freedom will impose their will on Internet search engines and the flow of information generally. That cannot be allowed to happen.