House of Lords brands right to be forgotten as 'unworkable and unreasonable'

Europe's right to be forgotten is unworkable, unreasonable and wrong, according to a UK House of Lords subcommittee.

Google has found a new ally in its opposition to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision this May that allowed Europeans to request irrelevant and outdated links be removed from search results for their names.

In a new report on the ruling published today, the UK’s House of Lords home affairs, health and education EU subcommittee said the court was wrong and that its assumption the right to be forgotten exists in Europe's 1995 Data Protection Directive had created "an unworkable and unreasonable situation".

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At last count, Google said it had received 91,000 right to be forgotten requests concerning 328,000 links, of which it had granted about half . Microsoft, which has a small slice of Europe's search market with Bing, has also launched a new online form to cater for de-linking requests.

The committee's report came down on the side of Google and the UK government, which both oppose the ruling, and against the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which has previously agreed with it. The committee reviewed evidence from the ICO, Google, members of Google's advisory council on the matter, and UK politicians.  

"Although this was a short inquiry, it is crystal clear that the neither the 1995 Directive, nor the [ECJ's] interpretation of it reflects the incredible advancement in technology that we see today, over 20 years since the directive was drafted," said chairman of the sub-committee, Baroness Prashar.

"We believe that the judgment of the court is unworkable for two main reasons. Firstly, it does not take into account the effect the ruling will have on smaller search engines which, unlike Google, are unlikely to have the resources to process the thousands of removal requests they are likely to receive."

"Secondly, we also believe that it is 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, and we heard from witnesses how uncomfortable they are with the idea of a commercial company sitting in judgement on issues like that."

Prior to the ruling, the European Commission had proposed a right to be forgotten clause in the updated directive and the committee urged the UK government to continue fighting to ensure the updated regulation "no longer includes any provision on the lines of the Commission's 'right to be forgotten' or the European Parliament's 'right to erasure'."

According to statistics Google's presented to the committee, France had the most number of requests, which at the end of last month numbered 14,086, followed by Germany's 12,678 requests, the UK's 8,497 requests, Spain's 6,176 and Italy's 5,934.

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