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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology

A Right to Be Forgotten?

A Right to Be Forgotten? illustrative photo

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

Court decisions in the field of data privacy rarely make a durable impression on the general public. And European court decisions in any field rarely cause a stir outside Europe. An exception on both counts is the May 2014 decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) ordering Google to suppress certain Internet search results for privacy-related reasons.1 Popularly characterized as establishing a "right to be forgotten," the decision is unlikely to fade quickly from public memory, either in Europe or many other regions. Since the decision was handed down, its merits have been debated worldwide.

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Lines of Debate

Some of the debate has been unnecessarily fueled by misunderstanding of the decision, not least regarding the right it is said to uphold. Although the decision has been commonly flagged as establishing a right to be forgotten, this is a misnomer. The decision does not establish a right to be forgotten. Rather, it upholds a qualified right to be de-indexed, or, more specifically, a qualified right not to figure in a public index of search results. Nonetheless, when put into effect, the right makes certain personal information more difficult to find and thus serves, indirectly, an interest in being forgotten.


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