Jones: There are two American ideologies here that are running straight into each other in the debate about the right to be forgotten. One is the idea that America is the land of second chances and reinvention, that we’ve built a country where this can happen. The other is this idea that not only do you have a right to express yourself and document things, but you also you have a right to know. Knowing what your government does and what your neighbors are doing, that’s part of being a good American citizen.
Miller: You write that the right to be forgotten is more firmly established in Europe. What does that look like?
Jones: There was a case in Spain in 2014 that spurred a lot of controversy. There was an individual who had filed for bankruptcy years earlier. Newspapers publish these notices when you sell your stuff as part of a bankruptcy, but it was coming up 10 years later when you searched for him on Google because they’d digitized their archives. This individual claimed it was old information and irrelevant to who he is today, but the paper refused to remove it from their archives and Google refused to remove the link from their search results. So, he went to the AEPD, the Spanish data protection agency, and they agreed that Google should remove the link. And they did—kicking and screaming.
In Europe, the default is that you better have a good reason to be processing personal information, and if you can’t point to it when someone objects, you’re going to have a hard time. It’s so un-American! The default in America is that of course you can and should share that information.
Miller: So, in Europe, if you don’t like something you see about yourself on the Internet all you have to do is call up your national data protection agency?
Jones: Oh, it’s so much easier than that. As a result of this Spanish case, Google has a form. You verify that you are a European Union citizen and then you literally copy and paste the urls that you want to be removed from a search result. The numbers are really quite staggering. So far, over 400,000 individuals have made requests to remove more than 1.4 million urls. The percentage of requests they’ve granted has hovered in the mid-40s. It’s a massive amount of information.
Miller: Have there been similar cases in the U.S. that were decided differently?
Jones: The second circuit [of the U.S. Court of Appeals] decided last year on a case that would have come down very differently in most European countries. A woman in Connecticut was arrested but never convicted. But when you do Google search on her name it still came up because a local newspaper had covered it. She was having a hard time finding a job. She sued for defamation. She said it was false information that the newspaper was providing. The second circuit said no, you were arrested. There’s no false information here for us to act on. We can’t help you.