- Assume that someone in Germany files a Right To Be Forgotten request to have some listing removed for their name. If granted, the censorship will work like this for searches on that person’s name:
- Listing censored for those in Germany, using ANY version of Google.
- Listing censored for those in the EU, using a European version of Google.
- Listing NOT censored for those outside Germany but within the EU, using non-European versions of Google.
- Listing NOT censored for those outside the EU, using ANY version of Google.
The right to be forgotten (or as Google terms it, the “right to delist”) was created by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014 and would allow non-public individuals the right to have search results about themselves to delist materials that they do not want to come up in search results.
This is not a complete win for those in Europe who would like a total right to be forgotten. Previously, a French court had demanded that Google delist those who had the right to be forgotten from all versions of its product; Google responded that the French court could only control what Google inside of France did. This new process basically means that the access to information will become incredibly variable based on who is doing the searching and from what geographic location they are doing it from. It also makes access to what used to be thought of as a hard public record as something that is variable and shifting.
Although the American Library Association does not have an official stance on the right to be forgotten as a separate issue, this is an issue that continues to be discussed by intellectual freedom advocates across the library world. It does seem, though, that the right to be forgotten contravenes several points of the Library Bill of Rights. First, a shifting information source where people can delist themselves and thus change the record of recent history would violate a libraries goal to provide information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues (LBoR II). After all, if the information isn’t available, libraries certainly can’t provide it. Further, this delisting amounts to censorship based on geography and muffles the speech of those who wrote articles and accounts that are being delisted (LBoR III and IV).
While the right to be forgotten has not made its American debut, concepts like this are infectious. They only have to start occurring in one place before they can spark a wildfire that can overrun the world’s information policy. After all, with more and more information companies working in a global environment, it is in their best interests to have as few different policies to have to traverse as possible. Thus, if the right to be forgotten is the law of Europe (and many other countries), it might just be easiest to acquiesce to the same demands in the United States. All intellectual freedom advocates should stand against and should seek to protect a full, detailed record of history without obfuscating delisting that can mar libraries and librarians abilities to provide accurate and adequate information to our users.
John “Mack” Freeman is the Marketing and Programming Coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library. He is a past recipient of the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Conable Scholarship, and a 2015 ALA Emerging Leader.