'I'm for free speech!' brave Boris bellows, bewildered by 'right to be forgotten' bluster

Calm down, dear, it's not a problem

Boris Johnson

Has Boris Johnson been paying too much attention to Jimmy Wales while the Wikipedia co-founder bangs on about Europe's so-called "right to be forgotten"?

On Monday, the Mayor of London claimed the European Court of Justice's ruling that made Google subject to European privacy laws was suddenly bad news for freedom of expression on the web.

"I am on the side of history, free speech and people's right to know what is going on in the world," Johnson bravely told The Times [paywall] during the opening of the capital's Technology Week in Shoreditch.

The Mayor continued:

The internet is a wonderful thing. It allows us to know what is going on in the world and I don't want to see people effectively going through it to weed out the truth.

Ex-Spectator editor Johnson added to the Times that he could not "see how it is practically possible [for watchdogs] to maintain the 'right to be forgotten' ruling".

Fret not, BoJo.

What Johnson appears to have not grasped is that the ECJ, the European Union's highest court on the law, made it very clear that netizens throughout the 28-member-state bloc can – under existing data protection law – ask Google to remove search links from its index if the information is old, irrelevant and not in the public interest. The key word here is ask.

Scare-mongering news reports, spun expertly by Google, wrongly suggested that people in positions of power can now order Mountain View to banish damaging stories about them from the interwebs.

But Google can snub any requests it receives to remove links from its ad-coated search results.

Such a refusal would simply force the complainant to take their gripe to their national data protection authority – such as the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the UK – and any decision taken at that level can be fought over in the courts.

That's a harder task than the mayor implied when he spoke of "people effectively weeding out the truth". He also failed to note that publishers are not required to delete news reports from their sites.

And, don't forget, the ICO has welcomed the ECJ ruling – and described the "inaccurate reporting" of the whole matter as regrettable. A spokesman at the regulator told El Reg: “It’s not a ‘right to be forgotten’ – there is not an absolute right to have information removed." ®

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