Any hopes that the European Commission (EC) might have a rethink about its stance on the odious Right To Be Forgotten can themselves be forgotten as the new European Justice Commissioner Martine Reicherts today laid into Google and critics of the ruling as seeking to poison public opinion.
The Right to be Forgotten was approved by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in May and is due to be ratified later this year. The ruling requires search engine firms to remove links to results that are outdated or unwanted by individuals and has been seized upon by politicians wishing to remove negative headlines and people with criminal pasts, such as fraudsters, murderers and pedofiles.
As well as the search engine providers themselves, the ruling has met with with opposition from civil liberties groups and legislators, most notably the UK government which has committed itself to preventing the ruling becoming law.
All of this is as nothing to the new commissioner however, who has quickly made it a case of ‘right v wrong’ - where she is right and anyone who takes a different view is wrong.
In a speech in Lyon today, Reicherts maintained the sabre-rattling rhetoric of her predecessor Viviane Reding when she declared of those who object to the Right To Be Forgotten:
They have got it wrong.
I will not let them abuse this crucial ruling to stop us from opening the digital single market for our companies and putting in place stronger protection for our citizens.
So that’s open for debate then…
- European court's Google ruling provides a blunt instrument to rewrite history (diginomica.com)
- Britain pledges to fight Europe's Right to be Forgotten bad law (diginomica.com)
- Europe preaches from data privacy bully pulpit over right to be forgotten (diginomica.com)
- UK tells EU to forget the unworkable, unreasonable, wrong right to be forgotten (diginomica.com)
Reicherts went on to claim that what she calls “distorted notions” of the Right To Be Forgotten are part of a wider agenda to discredit efforts to impose draconian new rules on data protection across the EU:
Just as work on the data protection reform has picked up speed and urgency, detractors are attempting to throw a new spanner in the works. They are trying to use the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice on the Right To Be Forgotten to undermine our reform.
Those who try to use distorted notions of the Right to be Forgotten to discredit the reform proposals are playing false. We must not fall for this.
It goes without saying that Reicherts has no sympathy for the position that Google and other tech firms find themselves in having to process thousands of requests from those with something to hide:
Search engines such as Google and other affected companies complain loudly. But they should remember this: handling citizens' personal data brings huge economic benefits to them. It also brings responsibility. These are two sides of the same coin, you cannot have one without the other.
She went on to warn that she wanted tougher penalties in place to put the squeeze on firms that fail to play by the EU’s rules:
People need to see that their rights are enforced in a meaningful way. If a company has broken the rules, this should have serious consequences. Yet so far, the fines European data protection authorities can impose are very low.
For giants like Google, they are just pocket money.
The new commissioner also pushed Reding’s claims that having the Right To Be Forgotten enshrined in EU law as part of a wider push for more draconian data protection legislation will actually spur growth in the European digital economy:
Today businesses are faced with 28 different, often conflicting, national laws. Our regulation will establish a single, pan-European law for data protection. One law, not 28. This will make it simpler and cheaper for companies to do business in the EU, especially for smaller companies and startups, which will find it easier to break into new markets.
And just for good measure, the anti-US tech industry undercurrents surrounding the EU's privacy debates in recent months once again bubbled to the surface:
The reform will create a level playing field for Europe's digital industry: companies located in third countries such as the US, when offering services to Europeans, will have to play by our rules and adhere to the same levels of protection of personal data as their European competitors.
It is an honour to be the Luxembourger who will succeed Viviane Reding.
So said Martine Reicherts when she took over the Justice Commissioner role in July following Reding’s departure to the European Parliament.
Unfortunately Reicherts appears cut from the same cloth as her fellow countrywoman if this hectoring, strident and frankly borderline paranoid speech is anything to go by.
We shall be hearing a lot from Commissioner Reicherts in the weeks and months to come and I fear very little will be to the good.