If anyone wondered what the practical side of Europe’s new Right to be Forgotten would turn out to be, here it is:
In less than a month since a court in the E.U. decided Google links were substantial information and could be scrubbed at the will of a judge, Google has received 40,000 requests to remove links to information that someone deems to be unpleasant, unnecessary, inconvenient, or all of the above.
These have come from politicians who don’t like articles about the way they misbehaved in office, an actor who wishes evidence of an affair with a teenager would just go away, and someone who would rather we are not aware that he was once convicted of possessing child pornography.
Gordon Crovitz in today’s Wall Street Journal makes the point we did last month when the court’s decision came down: scrubbing the link to an embarrassing piece on information on a Google site in Europe doesn’t mean the information is removed from the internet. You can probably still find it on Google.com, which is based in the U.S. and doesn’t adhere to European court decisions. You can also find it at the original website where it resides.
At least, for now you can. But why would a judiciary that wants to tilt the reputation/freedom balance in favor of deleting an old bit of information on a search engine not take the next step and require the website itself to push delete? If Google has no right to post links to information about an old bankruptcy, how far away is the decision to get rid of evidence of the bankruptcy itself?
As we said last month, in Big Brother Gets to Play Favorites, letting courts decide this sort of thing case by case opens up a huge opportunity for corruption and political cronyism.
What we did not say is that as opposed as we are to Europe’s approach to this issue, it should do wonders for the investigative business.
We’ve never been big fans of relying on Google as an exclusive or even major factor in an investigation, as we’ve said in Google is not a Substitute for Thinking, for instance.
Even without the E.U. decision, how likely are you to learn about that critical court decision about Mr. X from Google? The answer is almost never, because most courts do not have all of their decisions on line.
Instead, you need two other tools to do really good due diligence or someone:
- The ability to search records on site wherever you need to;
- The ability to identify, locate and interview people who know about the person you are researching. The man you know as the Spaniard who has been in Madrid for years actually spent a decade in Edinburgh. While there, he was charged with fraud. Without talking to people who have known him for a long time, you would never think to search in Scotland. Google would help you one time in a hundred on a matter like this. Otherwise, you need someone who can find people and then persuade them to have a talk about Mr. X with an investigator they’ve never met.
It’s not easy, but who (other than Google) ever said the world’s information was all yours at the touch of a button?