Right to be forgotten on the internet: hearing planned for those affected

The German government is planning to give authors the right to comment on the deletion of search results.

If the German government has its way, Google will face even more bureaucracy. Image: dpa

Germany has become the first EU country to make a proposal for the new right to be forgotten. In doing so, the German government is trying to strengthen freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. Affected media are to be informed and heard. Search engines are to set up independent dispute resolution bodies.

In May of last year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) caused a sensation with its Google Spain ruling. Since then, a private individual has been able to demand from Google that certain links to his or her person no longer appear in the search results. This claim is not limited to illegal or outdated content. Rather, citizens do not have to tolerate search engines creating comprehensive profiles about them at all. Exceptions are only to be made for public figures.

Since then, Google has received 205,000 requests to remove certain hits from the list of links to its own person, 35,000 of which came from Germany. Around 40 percent of these requests have been granted. Those responsible for the controversial texts – for example, media, bloggers and operators of Facebook pages – only receive a message from Google that the text has been deleted from a search list. However, the author has not yet been told who made the request and cannot comment on it.

However, even this minimal notification goes too far for data protectionists. With a little fiddling, the media could find out in which search list the text is missing and then pillory the applicant all the more. That is why the media should not be informed at all, demand data protectionists.

Considering the interests of authors

However, the German government sees things quite differently. Instead, it wants to strengthen freedom of the press and freedom of expression when implementing the ECJ ruling. In the discussion about the new General Data Protection Regulation, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière therefore proposed a new Article 17c at the beginning of February. The proposal has been submitted to the taz.

According to the proposal, when deciding on delisting requests, the search engine should not only consider the applicant and his or her right to data protection, but also the interests of the authors of the disputed text. These should not only be notified, but also be able to comment. Both the applicant mentioned in the text and the author of the text should be informed about the decision and its justification.

If a site is dissatisfied with the search engine’s decision, it should be possible to appeal to an independent dispute resolution body. According to the proposal, Google would have to set up such an expert and pluralistic body in every EU state. The decisions of the body would be binding on Google. However, the applicant mentioned in the text and the author of the text would be able to seek further redress: from the competent data protection commissioner and from state courts.

The German government is thus going further than the Google Deletion Advisory Board, which in its recommendations at the beginning of February provided for informing the media only in particularly complex cases. However, the idea of a dispute resolution body can be found in the special vote of former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who served on Google’s deletion advisory board.

The German government does not specify the content of the interests to be weighed. It only wants to ensure that freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are weighted at all.

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