A disconcerting hush around The Right to be Forgotten

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Via Lolsnaps

I am a bit conflicted by the Right to be Forgotten, and Google’s role within it.

On the one hand, I can feel for those people whose past misdemeanours are be blighting their modern day lives, and who wish to draw  a veil over the follies of their youth by citing the ROA 1974. On the other hand, what happens in the public domain should probably remain in the public domain. Otherwise we all get the histories we’d like to have, rather than the histories we create and own – that latter option is a path I think few of us would want to wander too far down.

I’ve posted once on the issue and I don’t intend to keep revisiting the subject but today’s latest advance notice of disappearing content  of public record bothered me.

It’s an inquest of a man who died on a road in 2004, which appeared on the Daily Post and Chester Chronicle websites (way back when I was working on the Liverpool Echo newsdesk and the internet was Another Country, in fact) and you’d have to assume one of the living people named have asked for it to be de-indexed in search.

I ran a Google Search around the names (the pix need clicking to enlarge)

The deceased 

His friend 

And his friend (with location added)

The taxi driver

… and the taxi driver (firm’s name included) 

So they didn’t exactly leap out of Google when searched for and it’s clear they were by no means implicated Or perhaps it was a family member of the deceased who didn’t want the inquest to be searchable in future. Either way, this is one inquest that you won’t be finding on Google.co.uk in future.

Here is the thing that dismays me, though. When Hacked Off and Leveson started turning stones around the Press there was a loud outcry, followed by some reflection and offers of compromises, from the industry. Yet Google is, in compliance with legislation of course, editing digital history (which sounds a bit grand, but is essentially true) and the silence may not be ringing but it is being broken only by some muted coughs and shuffles. (Although, good on The Guardian for getting four of its six withdrawn articles reinstated).

Journalism is popularly supposed to be the first rough draft of history (according to a misquoted  Alan Barth, of the WaPo who actually ascribed that honour to the Press). And I can’t help thinking there needs to be more discussion, reflection and challenges or counter-offers, from all corners of the sector (and those who write about it) around this issue. There needs to be some noise before it becomes just another thing that happens. “Court cases used to stay online for always?” “Yeah, we also used to go see the Police Inspector to go through the calls book with him every morning.”

The media, regional or national, should be good noise – we’re accused of blowing things out of proportion often enough, after all – and yet we’re kinda standing around ineffectually mouthing “Google” and “European Court of Justice” as though that’s the end of the matter.

Every day in courts and council offices up and down the country, journalists  challenge section 39s and standing orders so they can do their jobs and report on events; no courtroom judge has ever agreed to lift a reporting restriction “for the next 5 years until a conviction, should one be made, expires”. Maybe that’s the next step?