What does the “Right to be Forgotten” mean?
Rehabilitation is a central principle of our justice system. It means that after someone has committed a crime and dealt with the consequences, they have the ability to move on. However this does depend on the seriousness of the crime; For example, if someone has been convicted of murder or rape, it is difficult for them to to move on particularly with press, TV news and social media in the way seemingly intent on punishment and retribution over and above the sentence handed down by the criminal justice system.
Data protection laws currently enshrine the “right to be forgotten” which was introduced by the UK Parliament with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Depending on the reason and length of the person’s sentence, this Act provides that convictions are “spent” and removed from a persons’ record after a specific period of time.
Following a recent case in Spain, the new data protection rights provide that after a certain amount of time, specific information about a person should be removed from search results – to display such information it would be a breach of the Act. The Court explaineds that:
“It must be pointed out at the outset that….processing of personal data, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, carried out by the operator of a search engine is liable to affect significantly the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data when the search by means of that engine is carried out on the basis of an individual’s name, since that processing enables any internet user to obtain through the list of results a structured overview of the information relating to that individual that can be found on the internet — information which potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of his private life and which, without the search engine, could not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty.”
Essentially, they are saying that even being able to find information relating to spent convictions through an internet search could be an unlawful breach of privacy. If the search engine did not exist, people would not have access to this information, therefore it would not be an issue and would remain private. We are still waiting for further clarification as to how this decision will be applied within the UK.
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