New 'Right To Forget' Already Clashes With Press Freedom In U.K.

In 2010, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian wrote a series of articles about Dougie McDonald, a referee who resigned after lying about why he imposed a penalty in a soccer match.

Until recently, European residents who conducted Google searches for McDonald's name were shown links to those articles. No longer. As of today, the links have vanished from Google's European search results pages.

That's thanks to a European court, which ruled in May that individuals have the right to be “forgotten” by search engines. The company reportedly has since received 50,000 requests to remove articles that cast the subjects in unflattering lights.

Google is complying, but also alerting media organizations when their articles disappear from the search results.

The Guardian reported today that already six of its articles, including three about McDonald, have been scrubbed from Google's European results -- though only when people search for the subjects' names. Searches for phrases like “Scottish referee who lied” still reportedly result in links to the Guardian's articles.

The Guardian is criticizing the right-to-forget decision, calling it a “huge, if indirect, challenge to press freedom.”

“The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression -- our journalism can be found only until someone asks for it to be hidden,” the paper writes.

The Guardian isn't the only media outlet affected. The BBC also was told that links to an online article about ousted Merrill Lynch executive Stan O'Neal were slated to disappear.

“To all intents and purposes the article has been removed from the public record, given that Google is the route to information and stories for most people,” BBC economics editor Robert Peston writes. “I asked Google if I can appeal against the casting of my article into the oblivion of unsearchable internet data. Google is getting back to me.”

The U.S. version of Google continues to return all links, which makes sense considering that the right to be forgotten isn't recognized by courts in this country.  That's not likely to change soon, given that U.S. courts tend to say that publishers -- and search engines -- have the free-speech right to publish truthful information.

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