We’ve written plenty before about Europe’s “Right to be Forgotten,” under which governments tell Google and other search engines to take down links to legal, public documents that are deemed embarrassing or inconvenient for the people involved. We thought four years ago that this problem wouldn’t go away, and we were right.
We never took the Right to be Forgotten issue that seriously as to how it affected our work, because it was always possible to use google.com to perform the same search as the one the bureaucrats were restricting. If something was erased from Google’s French service (google.fr), you could still get it in the U.S. or anywhere else using google.com
Now comes word from France, as discussed in today’s Wall Street Journal in an excellent column by Gordon Crovitz, that French authorities will demand that Google abide by their privacy rulings world-wide.
That is a different matter. For one thing, as Crovitz points out, governments of all sorts could start to demand that Google tailor its findings to suit their tastes. Links to Chinese dissidents, to people unloved by Vladimir Putin, to activists out of style in Malaysia? All could end up removed from Google results everywhere.
Not that we as investigators rely that heavily on Google. As we’ve written about extensively, (see our Fact-Finding Test for Lawyers, here) the great majority of information on any person will not be accessible via Google. If Google in France or Spain removes the link to an accurate newspaper article about someone, we would probably still find that article because we use paid-for databases to search news articles that we think are relevant, not that are relevant in the commercial opinion of Google.
Still, the idea that a bureaucrat in another country gets to decide what is relevant for us to read in our own countries is a noxious notion. The Right to be Forgotten may help the bottom line for investigators, but it’s a boost for business we would happily live without.