The European Court ruling that has forced Google to remove historic search results has exposed a critical transatlantic culture clash that must be resolved.
I refer of course to the ruling stating that an individual can demand that "irrelevant or outdated" results be deleted from web searches.
While Google does need to do more to protect and manage people's data, enshrining this ruling in law will have to ensure a balance between privacy and freedom of speech.
That is the major difficulty in this case. There is a fundamental difference between the US, where freedom of speech is a paramount concern in law, and Europe, where we place more emphasis on the protection of individual privacy and reputation.
This will probably find its way into European law in one or two years. In that time, lawmakers will need to ensure they find a way to allow some information to be removed in a timely fashion while at the same time not allowing history to be rewritten.
If an individual goes to court about an article or piece of data which is found to be defamatory or inaccurate, there are already levers in place for Google to quickly remove it from search results.
Google should perhaps do more in these cases. I have made requests on behalf of clients a number of times in cases relating to the removal of content they believe to be defamatory.
Sometimes the issue is dealt with well but at other times the process can be slow and cumbersome.
I accept that freedom of speech must remain a key consideration. We should protect the right of people to express themselves.
It has been suggested that the law could insist that information that has been termed irrelevant or out of date could be deleted – for example, on request, or automatically after five years.
But what would the criteria be for this? Moreover, what might be deemed irrelevant now may not be deemed so in 10 years' time.
If something is not defamatory or inaccurate, why should it be removed? Would an application to eradicate information about the Nazi atrocities of World War II have to be implemented?
Would the police be able to request that details about mishandled cases such as that of Jimmy Savile be removed?
There is a lot of information some people would rather see forgotten and removed but which should not be – for many reasons.
Getting this legislation right is not an easy task and will take some time and thought.
Michael Sandys is partner and head of commercial at Jackson & Canter
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