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Security & privacy

Doctor wins case to remove her name from Google search results

Five years ago, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that people have the “right to be forgotten” and can ask Google to remove sensitive information from search results.

With this groundbreaking ruling, the court said that internet search engines must remove information that’s considered inadequate, irrelevant, excessive or no longer relevant under penalty of fines.

This asserts that people (well, in the European Union, at least) have the right to have certain internet records of past events deleted if they are no longer relevant. As a result of the ruling, more than a million web search results have been deleted from Google since 2014.

Now, a controversial landmark victory, the first “right to be forgotten” case that involves medical malpractice, is raising questions about what information can be rightfully purged from internet searches.

Right to be forgotten

A Dutch surgeon who was disciplined for medical negligence has scored a victory in an unprecedented “right to be forgotten” case that sought to have certain links and information about her stricken from Google search results.

The Amsterdam district court ruled that Google has to remove search results that point to the doctor’s past medical suspension, according to a report from The Guardian.

Why? It looks like after an appeal, the original suspension was reduced to a lesser conditional suspension. Unfortunately, the now-outdated information is still available in Google’s search results.

The links in question include a website that has an unofficial blacklist of suspended doctors. The surgeon’s name apparently was still on the blacklist although her reduced conditional suspension now allowed her to practice.

Relevant or misleading?

Not everyone agrees with the court ruling, though. As expected, Google and the Dutch privacy group Autoriteit Persoonsgegeven initially rejected the removal of the search results, saying that the information was still relevant since the doctor was still on probation.

However, the judge said that although the information on the website that references the doctor’s violations in 2014 was correct, her inclusion in the blacklist suggested that she was no longer fit to treat people, which is not the case. (Remember, her reduced suspension still allowed her to practice.)

With the court victory, the doctor’s lawyer concluded that it will ensure that doctors will no longer be judged by Google results on their fitness to practice.

So based on this victory, are there more medical delisting requests on their way? You betcha. Since the ruling, the same lawyer has sought to remove another 15 doctors from the website’s blacklist, but apparently, only half of them were accepted.

Over a million delistings so far

According to Google’s October 2018 transparency report, since the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” ruling was introduced in May 2014, there are now over 750,000 delisting requests and almost 3 million URLs requested to be delisted. Over a million URLs have been successfully delisted so far.

Content requested to be removed includes information from news sites, government and social media. In fact, the domain with the most URLs delisted comes from Facebook.

Now, here’s an interesting question. Any chance that the “right to be forgotten” law will make its way to the U.S.?

In its current EU form, it’s unlikely. The current “right to be forgotten” ruling may be violating the U.S. First Amendment rights to free speech and expression.

There’s also Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which protects internet service providers and search engines from lawsuits over third-party content. This piece of legislation was designed to protect freedom of expression and innovation on the internet and it will be a big hurdle for any “right to be forgotten” proponents in the U.S.

But what do you think? Is there a gray area between our rights to privacy versus our rights to information? Drop us a comment!

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