Revisiting the ‘Right to be forgotten’

By John C. Henegan, Sr.

2016 henegan, john
John Henegan

Three years ago this column reported about a legal ruling by the European Union Court of Justice (“EUCJ”) issued in May of 2014 establishing the so-called “right to be forgotten” under European law. See “Law Bytes: The Right To Be Forgotten When Everybody Knows Your Name,” The Fourth Estate (March 2015). The decision arose from a private party’s request that a search engine operated by Google in Spain pull down a 1998 legal notice that his home was being foreclosed. Google refused to comply with the request. In his suit against Google, the requester admitted that the legal notice was once true but contended that by 2014 it was no longer accurate and should be taken off Google’s search engine in Spain. EUJC upheld the requestor’s claim for relief.

The EUCJ’s decision drew an immediate firestorm of hostile commentary from media outlets in the United States who routinely publish the contents of official records and legal notices in print and electronic format. These media companies were justifiably concerned that they might soon face similar requests from private citizens, followed by suits for defamation or invasion of privacy, if a media company refused to take down similar information that could arise in a variety of different contexts. How has the so-called right to be forgotten fared in our country since then?

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