Look Mom, even the House of Lords says the #righttobeforgotten is not right

Westminster Palace, hosting the House of Lords

Westminster Palace, meeting place of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, London, UK

The relation between the UK and the EU is like that passionate thing usually developped between a cat and a dog. Historically since the very beginning of this love and hate affair in 1973, when London realized that the European project is a ‘good’ one, the UK always seeked to receive special attention, reminding to Brussels with each and every opportunity how special they are. The examples are numerous but it is not in the scope of this piece and neither the aim of my reader presently to get into historical details.

To me London, regarding its stance with the EU, has always been the elegant snobbish lady that was very difficult to approach. Is it a cultural thing of the Brits? Is it the attitude of a powerful nation that used to rule the world in the past, with an empire reaching all corners of the world? Is it because the British museum is so proud to exhibit all the trophees of that empire, cultural monuments stolen during war time from sites all over the world? Is it the sophisticated ‘self-righteous’ accent in English or the height of Big Ben? For all I know it can be all these things together or none; I am fine with it anyway. Europe absolutely needs the existence of strong cultures whatsoever. The real challenge is to engage them in the European.

The situation here is that currently we are less than a year before the UK elections in 2015 and the Scotish referendum that is coming in a couple of months from now. Cameron’s government has been using since the beginning, for quite some time now, this ‘special sentiment’ of the British society about themselves, in order to convince the electorate that the descendant of King William IV should continue his ‘conservative’ work for another five years. To increase partisanship among his voters he has been threatening to leave the EU asap, he has fiercely fought against Juncker’s candidature for the Presidency and recently has found another opportunity to exert his criticism about how wrong things are at the capital of Belgium.

I am referring here to the discussed report issued by the House of Lords only yesterday about the “right to be forgotten” ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union. This newspaper has written quite a few Stings about this European ‘fiasko’ that endangers the freedom of Search Engines and the Internet in the Old Continent. Hence, it was an ‘easy one’, for the UK to find another spike in the relations between London and Brussels. Only that this time it is a justified one.

“We believe that the judgement of the court is unworkable for two main reasons: Firstly it does not take into account the effect the ruling will have on smaller search engines which unlike Google are unlikely to have the resources to process the thousands of removal requests they are likely to receive. Secondly, we also believe that it is wrong in principle to leave search engines themselves the task of deciding whether to delete information or not, based on vague, ambiguous and unhelpful criteria, and we heard from witnesses how uncomfortable they are with the idea of a commercial company sitting in judgment on issues like that.” This is a statement made by Usha Prashar, the chairwoman of the House of Lords Subcommittee on Home Affairs, Health and Education, the subcommittee that is responsible for the publication of the report.

Well, let’s be fair here. There is nothing wrong with the cricism exerted above on the “right ot be forgotten” as well as there is nothing new about it. The literature produced after this “unfortunate” ECJ ruling of last May, by all the sane people that know a thing or two about the way the Web operates and the core role of Search Engines , is abundant. And the ‘butterfly effect’ initially began by the case of Spanish Mario Costeja, who wanted and succeeded one single short 1998 article describing his social security debts to be erased from Google results for ever, since he has no debts now. Seriously? Why didn’t he grab the phone and make a phone call to the publisher of that article in the first place? For God’s sake. What does Google have to do with it, if the publisher’s website has good backlink strategy that brings articles in a high rank?

Not to mention here that after this ‘prude’ ruling more than 70,000 requests have been processed by the Google guys, claims of random people asking random stuff to be excluded by the search engine results. Let me underline here also what has been happening since May and was reported in my previous article as well: “Sources also claim that many of them consist of previously convicted criminals that do not want their bad deeds to be on top of Google when someone Googles their names. My goodness! Can ECJ or any sane data privacy activist weigh the implications that something like that has to the society? Do they have the right to forget or do we have the right to remember in this case?”. No additional comment is needed to be made here two months later.

Let me also touch here the point of Mrs Prashar from the House of Lords subcomittee that search engines are overloaded with the unholy burden to make a choice on what to source in the results and what not. Again, although that this point, is not new, it is always an important one. I mean, how can you give the search engine the ability and authority to process all these claims? Some of them could probably be unreasonable for all I know, like a request to delete a brunette photo of a currently blonde lady. It is not the search engine’s job to do that folks! How many people do they need to hire to read those kind of claims, should they be lawyers, should they be priests, should they seek approval by whom? Nobody said anything about that. We just let a single case to change the charter of the European Internet for no reason I believe.

Again, the British report is to the point and accurate, only that it came two months later. Apparently, the UK government is against the inclusion of the “right to be forgotten” inside the paleolithic data protection EU regulation that dates back to 1995. Who can blaim them? I know I can’t. Simon Hughes, minister at the UK Ministry of Justice, said to the subcommittee earlier this month (9 july): “The U.K. would not want what is currently in the draft, which is the right to be forgotten, to remain as part of that proposal. We want it to be removed. We think it is the wrong position. I do not think, both as an individual and a minister, we want the law to develop in the way that is implied by this judgment, which is that you close down access to information in the EU that is open in the rest of the world.” Bearing in mind how the House of Lords is comprised of, by hereditary members or apointed members by the government, the report’s publication a couple of weeks after that statement let’s just say did not happen by accident.

But the point here is that, beyond any political scope that this report has for the UK government, actually the man is right. Let me quote here an excerpt of my May piece on this hot matter : “I would like to remind here to the judges of ECJ the huge “right to be remembered” and their duty to compose the balanced magic formula that will have the right significant coefficients to decide which of the two “rights” prevail per case. Setting free an immense flow of random claims to a search engine, with no specific legal frame on how to process and react on them, is not serious enough, I think. What is next? Should we expect in Europe soon the story of Google China to be repeated? Not to forget that there the search engine giant refused to filter its results according to the policy of the Chinese government and hence they had to move to the ‘more liberal’ Hong Kong to do business. Do you see this as an extreme? Give Google 1.000.000 EU claims per day to filter anything from ugly photos to content about ex-cons and I will tell you then if they will stay in the Old Continent or they will leave us to the hands of smaller alternatives like Bing of Microsoft. And even in that case, what if Bing starts getting claims after that to filter Web content? Then courts will rule search engines and we will be protagonists of a Spielberg movie where in 2100 we will all look and act the same, since we will all have access to the same info.”

So, yes, the freedom of Internet is at stake here, not by one single ECJ ruling but by the importance it has been given and its supporters around Europe that this is the right thing to do. For all I know it is possible that the judges do not even know how the spider of a search engine works. The search engines should be allowed to do their work and scan information on the web according to its significance. Nothing more and nothing less. If there is a different proposition, like for instance a proposal by the Commission or another House of Lords ‘report’, then it has to figure it out properly and elaborate in detail on how something like that would be feasible. Then share it to with the citizens of Europe and the media. And then be ready for a hell of a criticism.

I believe most of the reasonable people in Europe do not dream of search engines that are controlled or filtered. It is a mistake of the EU to let this matter escalate in abyss like that and even give the good chance to our ‘neighbours’ to criticize. Someone from the EU needs to take the lead and close this matter now before Europe is judged as the only part of the western world where search engines get filtered.

That on its own could be a good reason for me to relocate to the other side of the atlantic. What about you?

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