Nine years ago, Nikki, the 18-year-old daughter of Christos and Lesli Catsouras, died in a horrific automobile crash in Orange County. Graphic confidential police investigative photos of her remains were leaked and posted on the Internet. Today, those gruesome images are still linked to her name and the names of other Catsouras family members in Internet search results.
The failure of search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing to honor the “right to be forgotten” in the United States is not an abstract issue. Their callous decision hurts real people, like the Catsouras family.
“Since the leak, my family has been forced to relive the shock every time the horrific images reappear simply because there are no tools in place to stop it,” says Christos Catsouras. “‘The right to be forgotten’ is the only chance for my family to find closure and to finally grieve.”
In May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that Europeans have the right to request the removal of search engine links from their name to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.” In deciding whether to grant removal requests, a balance must be struck between the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy, the court ruled.
The right to be forgotten is not censorship. It simply restores an element of “privacy by obscurity” to the digital age. The original published item is not removed or altered. The link from a person’s name may be removed, but the item still can be accessed using other search terms.
Google, the dominant search engine, compiled data just uncovered by the Guardian newspaper showing that 95 percent of right-to-be-forgotten removal requests it received came from private individuals concerning private information. Only 5 percent concerned criminals, politicians or public officials.
According to its “transparency report,” since Google began considering right-to-be-forgotten requests in Europe, Google has received 286,521 removal requests. The Internet giant evaluated 1,041,732 URLs and among those cases fully processed has dropped 364,097, or 41.2 percent. It has declined to remove 519,119, or 58.8 percent of the links. Americans deserve the same right to be forgotten.
The Internet giant’s June 19 announcement that it would honor requests to remove links to “revenge porn” — nude or explicit photos posted without the subject’s consent — underscores the fact that Google could also easily honor right-to-be-forgotten requests here.
Consumer Watchdog believes that Google’s portraying itself as concerned about users’ privacy, then not honoring right-to-be-forgotten requests in the United States while doing so in Europe is an unfair and deceptive practice. The Federal Trade Commission says it is considering our recently filed complaint against Google that would require it to honor requests in the United States.
It’s clear the right to be forgotten offers a clear way to help protect our privacy in the digital age. More succinctly, the search engine links to Nikki Catsouras’ gruesome photos serve no useful purpose and the Catsouras family should have the right to have them removed.
If you agree we should have the right to be forgotten in the United States:
Write the Federal Trade Commission backing Consumer Watchdog’s complaint. https://www.ftc.gov/faq/ftc-info/file-comment
Drop a line to your congressional representatives explaining that you think Americans should enjoy this right, just like Europeans.
House of Representatives: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Sen. Barbara Boxer: https://www.boxer.senate.gov/contact/
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact