Minister Says U.K. Government Opposes Right to Forget Principle in EU Regulation

By Ali Qassim  

July 9 – The U.K. government is against the inclusion of a right to be forgotten principle in the proposed European Union data protection regulation, U.K. Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes told a U.K. Parliament subcommittee July 9.

The House of Lords Affairs, Health and Education European Union Sub-Committee met to discuss the consequences of the European Court of Justice's May 13 ruling that data subjects can in certain circumstances require Google and other Internet search engines to remove links to websites containing personal information about them.

The U.K. government plans to reiterate its opposition to include the right to be forgotten principle in the European Commission's proposed data protection regulation, which would replace the EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC), he said.

“It is not a good position for the EU to be in to look as if it is countenancing restrictions” on access to information, Hughes said. “It would be setting a very bad precedent.”

The ECJ's right to be forgotten ruling doesn't give people the “unfettered right” to “have their personal data deleted from search engine results,” he told the subcommittee.

“There is no right to be forgotten” in U.K. or EU law or in “the judgments of the court,” he said.

Technology Hurdles

Hughes said the U.K. government will highlight in future negotiations over the proposed EU data protection regulation that it “is not technologically possible to remove all trace of data uploaded on the Internet.”

“It raises unrealistic expectations,” he said. “You couldn't exercise a complete right to be forgotten. The global information system could not be made to do it.”

Hughes also said it would be difficult and costly for search organizations to fulfill their obligation under the proposed regulation to inform all other data controllers.

Any law that is “impractical, impossible and undeliverable is a nonsense,” he said. “We should not countenance it.”

Google Might Help U.K.

Google Inc. might play an important rule in helping the U.K. make its case in the EU “as they will be very keen for the law to be changed as soon as possible and will collaborate with us to do that,” according to Hughes.

He said he has asked the Internet search giant “to try to share periodically” the balance between the number of applications to be forgotten it has accepted in recent weeks and the number of requests it has turned down.

It is doubtful that Google will agree to remove “something you don't like about your record just because you ask them to.” He said “that is not the implication of the judgment, and the louder they can say and we can say it the better.”

The ruling asked search engines to balance the public interest in the information with the fundamental privacy rights of the data subject.

Ruling ‘Very Limited.'

The right to be forgotten “phraseology” that emerged after the ECJ ruling was “inaccurate and unhelpful” and encouraged “vexatious, misconceived requests” from data subjects to search engines “just to correct something that is uncomfortable,” Hughes said.

The ECJ ruling is “very limited” and was narrowly focused on a case of a Spanish national seeking to remove search results linking his name to newspaper details of debt recovery proceedings against him, he said.

“If politicians think they can delete findings about their expenses infractions in the past, that is not going to succeed,” Hughes said. People cannot delete their criminal history, he said. “it won't happen.”

He warned against the rise of “mischievous” online reputation companies that have emerged in the last few weeks since the ECJ ruling, which claim they can assist data subjects with making applications to remove their data from search engines.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Qassim in London at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com