Right To Be Forgotten in the US: Americans Wanna Be Like EU-Oo-Oo, Says Watchdog

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The US should be more like Europe – and introduce the controversial "right to be forgotten" ruling – says a top American consumer-defending organisation.

In a letter to Google CEO Larry Page and exec chairman Eric Schmidt, Consumer Watchdog asked the search supremos to extend the EU's privacy ruling, dubbed the "right to be forgotten", to American citizens. That's the right to have links to web pages and articles one's past scrubbed from search results, but only under very particular circumstances.

“I was heartened to see – based on Google’s own numbers – that you appear able to strike this balance in Europe and it does not appear to be an undue burden on your resources,” John Simpson, the group’s privacy project director, wrote to Page and Schmidt this week [PDF].

The "right to be forgotten" furore kicked off when Google was ordered to remove links to “outdated or irrelevant” information about individuals by the European Court of Justice in May. Since then the search giant has received more than 146,000 requests representing nearly 500,000 URLs. Figures published by Google last Friday showed that the corp has apparently refused about 58 per cent of such demands.

Simpson said that this showed it was possible to strike a balance between “an individual’s privacy and the public’s right to know.”

Google’s numbers include various examples of requests, but does not mention early teething problems that saw fair and accurate news reports de-listed due to things said in the comments sections.

Examples of more recent requests include a German rape victim who wanted a link to a newspaper article about the crime removed (Google agreed) and a Swiss financier who wanted Google to remove more than 10 links to pages reporting on his arrest and conviction for financial crimes (Google declined).

As yet there are no published guidelines or legal rules on how Google should make these calls.

Consumer Watchdog says polls show Americans want an EU-style right to be forgotten. However, legislation that could enshrine such a right has yet to be finalized in Europe. The proposed Data Protection Regulation has been held up by national governments and cannot become law until an agreement is reached between them, the European Commission and the European Parliament – which is unlikely to happen before 2016.

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