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Privacy rights prevails over free expression in European court decision

The free Internet took a blow this week as a European court ruled that people had a “right to be forgotten” and erase any trace of information about them from the Internet. The case involved a man from Spain who claimed an auction notice of his repossessed home violated his privacy. (Business Insider, May 13, 2014, by Lisa Eadicicco)

The ruling of the European Union Court of Justice stems from a different concept of privacy than U.S. citizens entertain. Europeans are much more dedicated to the idea that one’s reputation should not be muddied by past transgressions. But many in the U.S. fear the impact of the ruling on free expression. (Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2014, by Lisa Fleisher)

Writing in the blog, Law Justice and Journalism, May 13, 2014, Peter Noorlander considers the ruling a huge threat to the free flow of information on the Internet, the greatest marketplace of ideas that the world has ever seen. Says Noorlander about the ruling, “There is an acknowledgement of the importance of journalism, but no apparent awareness of the importance – in the internet age – of the right to freedom of expression and how that right is realised.”

Said a Los Angeles Times editorial lamenting the overly broad nature of the ruling, “They’re [referring to search engines] not repositories for the data that people might want to remove; they are just remarkably efficient tools for finding things online. And whether a piece of information is relevant or valuable is in the eyes of the beholder. One of the beauties of the Internet, after all, is the extent to which it gives anyone with a browser access to troves of knowledge that had previously been locked in government offices, publishers’ morgues and other storage vaults of the analog era.” (Los Angeles Times, May 14, by Times Editorial Board)

A New York Times editorial similarly criticizes the ruling, “The desire to allow individuals to erase data that they no longer wish to disclose is understandable. For example, there are good reasons to let people remove embarrassing photos and posts they published on social media as children or young adults. But lawmakers should not create a right so powerful that it could limit press freedoms or allow individuals to demand that lawful information in a news archive be hidden.” (The New York Times, May 13, 2014, by The Editorial Board)

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