Right to be forgotten: 47% of Lib Dems say deleting results individuals do not like amounts to censorship

by Stephen Tall on October 1, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Should internet search engine results be removed on request by individuals?

The ‘right to be forgotten’ hit the headlines this summer following controversy over a European Court of Justice ruling that search engines are responsible for the content they point to, and that therefore search engines like Google are required to comply with EU data privacy laws. This means individuals can request that search engines remove links they consider (for example) inaccurate, out-of-date or an invasion of their privacy. As noted here, “Google is not required to comply with removal requests at all, as it can refer requests to the information commissioner in the relevant country for a decision weighing the respective merits of public interest and individual rights.” We asked…

It has been suggested that internet search results about people should be removed, if those people complain that the results are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”. Which of the following best reflects your view?

    26% – Search results should be removed on request – the rights of individuals to control their personal data are paramount
    47% – Search results should not be removed on request – deleting results individuals do not like amounts to censorship
    15% – Neither
    12% – Don’t know

Almost half (47%) Lib Dems in our survey answered that search results should not be removed on request; just over one-quarter (26%) disagreed. A significant minority (15%) answered neither, mostly on the basis that their view fell somewhere between the two options – for instance, that links to material which is inaccurate are a different category to those which are inconvenient or simply dated. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• The “rights of individuals” works both ways. We need to remember the rights of people to know the full truth about the people being searched for and not be given a false impression, which could, after all, be dangerous.
• There may be exceptional circumstances where this might be justified, but the principle is illiberal.
• The solution is between the two and making search engine companies ensure that, out of their considerable profits, the merit of a complaint is properly investigated.
• Right to apply to have incorrect data deleted
• Right to equally prominent response to comment or correct but out of date data
• These aren’t ‘personal data’. They are historical reports which were in some way relevant at the time. If they are false, the individual concerned should take it up with the organ(s) which originally published them.
• The rich and powerful will be able to delete their misdemeanours even more easily than they could before.
• Search results should be removed if the data is factually incorrect – for example someone found not guilty of a crime should be allowed to request that the search results on their name show this to be the case, not endlessly repeat the accusation without showing the (less newsworthy) verdict. Chris Jeffries springs to mind, here.
• Where search results return information that can be shown to be incorrect, misleading or malicious then the person concerned should have the right to have it removed
• My view is more nuanced. There are circumstances where I believe the “right to be forgotten” is valid. But that is very different to removing results on request.
• Really concerned about this. Understand about privacy but this sounds like censorship.
• This is a tough one. The right to control personal data is paramount but if it’s in the public domain- a news report etc, it isn’t personal data. If it’s wrong or no longer relevant there are other channels for people to have something removed or corrected.
• Removal should be at the direction of an independent adjudicator based on the information being factually incorrect
• If search reveal incorrect or misleading information, the victim should have a simple and easy way to have it corrected without protracted or costly legal proceedings, but removal of information just because it is inconvenient amounts to deceit.
• In the greater scheme of things, this is not a biggie!
• People should have the ability to remove incorrect data at source, hiding “true” information is censorship – have we learnt nothing from recent sex scandals about information being “hidden”
• I think it should depend. Libellous and incorrect information should be able to be removed – however a person shouldn’t be able to hide correct information that was in the public domain just because they don’t want other people to see it.
• There may be cases where the results should be removed, but allowing individuals to request this without review runs the risk of distorting the historical record and such a right would be more likely to be exercised by the rich and powerful.
• We should have complete transparency of public information.
• Results should not be removed unless they are incorrect.
• Generally believe they shouldn’t be removed, but there are some cases where they should be though that should require more than just individual request.
• I think information which is inaccurate should be removable. But there is an issue with the only findable information referring to matters a decade or more old.
• People should be able to request it but it should be up to the content provider whether or not to delete it.
• People should be allowed to move on from errors and embarassments but not from matters of official public record … which does not include the hysteria of much of the third estate. Just because someone has been vilified and / or bullied in press or online does not mean there is necessarily anything of real substance which they need to answer to.
• This is a difficult situation. The internet has created a situation where things people did years ago may come back to haunt them but we have not yet learned to accept that.
• There may be a case in limited circumstances for removing results, e.g. involving libel or wrongful convictions. Otherwise it is not sensible.
• It’s complicated.
• privacy is important, but so is freedom of information – it is a matter of balance
• People should be allowed to insist on edit of their data where they can prove it to be wrong
• There is always noise – we have to live with it.
• What some people have done should not be deleted. Other who have suffered personal disasters due to no fault of their own could have info deleted. Maybe ISPs should set up tribunals to decide
• I’m not against some mechanism for protecting personal data, but a lot of information potentially removed under this power is there in the public interest and doesn’t amount to personal data.
• Search results should not be saved.
• Factually wrong should be deleted, but not just no longer relevant.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
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  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.