Was that job offer rescinded when your soon-to-be employer “Googled” you and found those sex photos you’d forgotten about?
Was a potentially perfect life partner turned off when a police mug shot from two decades ago turned up on an obscure website?
The state of New York is considering a way to end these kinds of high-tech terrors that are plaguing millions of people. A bill in the New York Assembly would provide victims the “Right To Be Forgotten,” and a non-profit called Consumer Watchdog is backing the proposed measure.
While the past becoming a present-day hassle can create significant problems for Californians just as much as for New Yorkers, it’s not clear if a similar measure is in the California Legislature.
The New York bill, according to Consumer Watchdog, would allow people to “request removal of material and search engine links from their name to information that is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive from the Internet.”
Another part of the bill would say that the statute of limitations to bring an action for defamation, should an item be libelous, would start when an article is removed from the Internet, not when it was first published.
“With this bill, New Yorkers will be the first to be able to tell the Internet, ‘fuhgeddaboudit’,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “Unfair and no longer relevant digital footprints following you throughout your life can hurt you. People need to be able to tell the Internet: ‘Just fuhgeddaboudit.'”
The full endorsement letter may be found at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrrtbf052517.pdf
The letter noted that nearly nine in ten Americans back the Right To Be Forgotten. A poll by Benenson Strategy Group and SKDKnickerbocker found that 52 percent strongly support a U.S. law and another 36 percent somewhat support it.
Consumer Watchdog, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group, explained in its letter why the Right To Be Forgotten is crucial in the Digital Age.
“Before the Internet, if someone did something foolish when they were young – and most of us probably did – there sometimes might be a public record of what happened. Over time, as they aged, people tended to forget whatever embarrassing things someone did in their youth.
“They would be judged mostly based on their current circumstances, not on information no longer relevant and often from many years (if not decades) ago. If someone else were highly motivated, they could do manual research and go back into library archives and microfilm, and dig up a person’s past. Usually this required appreciable effort and motivation. For a reporter, for instance, this sort of deep digging was routine for, say, candidates for public office, but not for John Doe citizen. This pre-Google reality, that our youthful indiscretions and embarrassments and other matters no longer relevant previously slipped from the general public’s consciousness, was Privacy by Obscurity. However, the Digital Age has ended that. Now everything – all our digital footprints – are instantly available with a few clicks on a computer or taps on a mobile device.”
Consumer Watchdog cited a few real-life examples of major problems faced by Internet victims.
- “A young California woman was decapitated in a tragic auto accident. Photos from the grisly accident scene were wrongfully leaked by California Highway Patrol officers and posted to the Internet. A search on her family name still returns the horrible photographs.
- “A guidance counselor was fired in 2012 after modeling photos surfaced from 20 years prior. She was a lingerie model between the ages of 18-20, and she had disclosed her prior career when she first was hired. Despite this, when a photo was found online and shown to the principal of her school, she was fired.
- “A Florida doctor locked herself in the bedroom to hide from her violent boyfriend. He used a steak knife to jimmy the door open. As he entered, she scratched his chest with her fingernails. When the police arrived, both she and her boyfriend were arrested, her boyfriend having claimed the scratches on his chest were from the knife. She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery domestic violence. The charges against her were soon dropped. But soon after, her photo showed up on mug‑shot websites. And anyone who Googled her name found this information as one of the top results. The mug-shot websites demanded hundreds of dollars to remove the photos.”
Consumer Watchdog said that “Google’s experience with the Right To Be Forgotten in Europe demonstrates that Right to Be Forgotten removal requests can be managed in a way that is fair and not burdensome for Google or other search engine providers and Internet publishers.
“Since Google began considering Right to Be Forgotten requests in Europe in May 2014, after a court decision required them to do so, Google has received 704,314 removal requests, the company reported in early April. Google evaluated 1,963,386 URLs for removal from its search results, and has dropped 716,894 or 42.3 percent. It declined to remove 944,331, or 56.8 percent of the links, Google reported.”