Computer companies and others are concerned about a May 13 ruling out of the European Union Court of Justice that they say could be misused to promote broadband censorship.
The court held that a private citizen could require a search engine, in this case Google Spain, to remove links to information he did not want linked to him. The Computer & Communications Industry Association called that decision a "dangerous step in an ill-conceived push to create a "right to be forgotten" that could alter the fundamental flow of online info.
In a ruling on a preliminary injunction involving Google and information about a Spanish citizen that he wanted removed from the search engine, the EU court held that the rights of someone to have information removed from a search engine "override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in finding that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name."
The court said that would not apply if the person were a public figure, in which case the public's interest in the info would trump that right.
But for a private citizen, the court held, particularly in the case of long-archived material--the material in question was 16 years old--"the data subject establishes a right that that information should no longer be linked to his name."
"The finding that Google or other online services that offer links will now have the responsibility to censor, selectively take down and hide some of the broad information they display in response to legitimate inquiries is a paradigm shift," CCIA said in a statement. "Given the global nature of the Internet, this decision will have broad implications for access to information for people around the world."
Although the decision affected Google in Europe, not the U.S., that was cold comfort for the global tech companies. And they suggested the problem did not end at the water's edge.
“It’s not just Europe and it’s not just one company," said CCIA President Ed Black. "[T]his ruling represents a philosophical approach that undermines the underpinnings of the Internet. It has frightening, far-reaching implications for everything from researching information to free speech online."
Black also suggested the ruling could create a global case of Internet haves and have nots. “The ruling clashes with the principles of First Amendment in the U.S. so it would create a schism in global access to information," he says. "For example, Internet users in the US might be able to access a European news article that has unflattering information about someone, but European Internet users might be blocked from seeing links to that information.”
There have been efforts in the U.S. Congress to create a "right to be forgotten," but that has centered on an "erase" button for info that children and teens might post online and later wish, or their parents wish, they hadn't.
CCIA members include Google, Ebay, Microsoft, Dish, Motorola, Aereo and many others.