Right to be Forgotten

The Right to be Forgotten is a very useful mechanism for individuals who no longer want certain types of material appearing in a search of their name on internet search engines. But where does this right come from and how can it be used to your advantage?

 

What is the Right to be Forgotten?

Since a ruling of the European Court of Justice in May 2014, individuals have had the right to request that unwanted results are removed from internet search engines, if the information contained in the search result is irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise inappropriate. This is commonly known as the "right to be forgotten". 

If an application for the right to be forgotten is successful, the search engine provider blocks unwanted search results from a search of your name. This is not the same as the complete removal of material from the internet, but if information is no longer available in a search result, it can have largely the same effect. 

 

Has Brexit Affected the Right to be Forgotten?

The right of people in the UK to make applications for the right to be forgotten has not been affected by Brexit. We are still regularly making these applications in the same way for our clients who are based in the UK and throughout the world. 

There do not appear to be any plans for this to change. 

 

How do I use the Right to be Forgotten?

The European Court has ruled that content should be removed from search results if it is:

  • irrelevant
  • outdated or
  • otherwise inappropriate.

More recent case law in England has also confirmed that where someone has been convicted of a crime which is referred to in a search of their name, if they have led an otherwise blameless life, this should be taken into consideration. 

If the publication relates to a historic conviction, the application for the right to be forgotten is more likely to be successful if the conviction is spent, but this is not always the case. 

Requests can be made for various reasons, for example if:

  • an individual has been mentioned in a newspaper article and they are now embarrassed about the content;
  • you were arrested or charged with a crime and then never convicted, or found not guilty, there may only be stories online which relate to your arrest, which could be very damaging;
  • you may have been made bankrupt some years previously, but have been solvent ever since your bankruptcy came to an end;
  • there is content online which discloses personal data about you, which could mean you are targeted or harmed in some way;
  • the content contains information about your physical or mental health, your sexuality, religious beliefs or political views;
  • there are embarrassing pictures of you online, that you would prefer people not to see; or
  • you have been a victim of libel and you are beyond the deadline for bringing a claim against the publisher.

 

How is an application for the Right to be Forgotten made?

Applications are submitted to each search engine separately, using a specific form. We would usually recommend that applicants start with Google, before moving on to Bing and Yahoo, as Google is by far the most widely used search engine in the UK. 

If material is going to be blocked, the request to the internet search engine has to include the correct information, such as the specific URLs to be removed, any variations on the name of the applicant which are used to carry out the search, and an explanation of why the removal should take place, within the scope of the European Court's ruling and subsequent court decisions. 

Each request is then examined on a case by case basis by the internet search engine. 

 

Are Right to be Forgotten applications effective?

It is still very difficult to ensure that someone can be "forgotten" from the internet entirely. However, if, for example, someone makes a successful request to Google UK to have content removed, then the content will also be blocked from Google searches in the UK and the rest of the EU countries. 

Google's geo-tracking software will also ensure that if someone uses google.com to carry out a search within the UK and the EU, the unwanted results would also be blocked. 

 

What if an application for the Right to be Forgotten fails?

If a request to the internet search engine is refused, that decision can be appealed to the Information Commissioner's Office. The ICO will re-examine the case and decide whether or not to direct the search engine to remove the link to the offending material.

The ICO's criteria are somewhat wider than the criteria used by the search engines. The ICO will give more consideration to the effect upon the applicant of the continued publication of the material, and will take into account whether they have any role in public life, whether they have been placed at risk of physical harm as a result of the publication, and whether there are any Data Protection Act issues which need to be considered. 

We can draft appeals to the ICO for you, if you have made the application for the right to be forgotten yourself, or if we have submitted it to the search engine on your behalf. 

 

How long do Right to be Forgotten applications take?

Once we have your instructions, we are generally able to make an application for the Right to be Forgotten within a few days. Although the time for a response from Google and other search engines can vary, in general, you will have a result within a few weeks.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect upon the length of time it takes to receive a response from Google, but in most cases a response will come back in weeks rather than months. 

If the application is successful, the link to the offending material will be broken straight away. 

 

If my application is successful, can results return?

The only way in which previously blocked search results can reappear in a search of your name, is if the URL (the web address which links to the material) is altered in any way. 

This can happen, particularly if older news stories move to an archive section of the paper's website, and so it is worth checking every few months to ensure that results have not reappeared. If they do reappear, the process for applying to have the result removed again is relatively straightforward. 

 

What should I do next if I want to claim the Right to be Forgotten?

At Samuels we provide quick and efficient assistance for clients wishing to submit such requests to Google and other search engines, for a low fixed fee. We also assist clients with appeals to the Information Commissioner's Office again for a fixed fee. For more information, please visit www.right2bforgotten.co.uk for full details about our services

Complete our online form below to instruct us to submit a request to Google on your behalf, or contact us for a fee no obligation discussion about how we can help with your reputation management issues. 

 

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