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‘Right to be forgotten’: Next challenge for PH netizens?

05:59 AM December 04, 2014

“Never forget” is the battle cry associated with painful chapters in Philippine history, from corrupt, abusive past presidents, the Ampatuan Massacre, to the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

But Filipinos, many complain, have short memories, prone to forgetting crimes and offenses committed by people in power.

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Now comes a legal principle that could potentially make it even harder to remind Filipinos of ugly episodes in our past: ‘the right to be forgotten.’

As Filipino netizens wrestle with attempts to stifle free speech in social media, another long-term threat looms based on this controversial concept being debated in Europe and the U.S.

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The issue erupted early this year when the European Union ruled that an individual has the right to ask Google and other search engines to take down from search results content with information that the EU deems “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”

The ruling was ostensibly aimed at protecting a person’s privacy. A prominent case related to the EU decision involved a Spanish man whose home was foreclosed due to unpaid debts. He eventually paid off the debt and wanted a news story related to his financial woes removed from Google search results for his name.

In a blog post, David Drummond, Google’s general counsel, said the ruling essentially meant that a news organization “could have an article on its website about an individual that’s perfectly legal, but we might not legally be able to show links to it in our results when you search for that person’s name.”

“It’s a bit like saying the book can stay in the library, it just cannot be included in the library’s card catalogue,” Drummond said.

And, to be sure, many people in Europe wanted to be forgotten.

Hours after Google unveiled a site where individuals could file their “right to be forgotten” petitions, the company was hit by a wave of 12,000 requests — or 20 a minute shortly after the site went live.

Google said it has received more than 174,000 requests covering more than 600,000 Web links as of November.

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Drummond, the Google general counsel, said the company was sympathetic to some requests.

He cited a man “who asked that we not show a news article saying he had been questioned in connection with a crime,” since he was able to show that he was never charged. There was also the case of a woman “who requested that we remove news articles for her daughter’s name as she had been the victim of abuse.”

But other requests highlight the absurdity of the “right to be forgotten” principle.

Google said it received requests from professionals, including architects and teachers, who wanted to delete links to “bad reviews” about them. Other people just wanted to get rid of links to online comments they regretted posting.

Other cases point to more serious forms of abuse, including by people Filipinos would be familiar with.

Google said some politicians asked posts critical of their policies to be taken down from search results. There were also “serious, violent criminals” who demanded that articles about what they did to be removed from search results.

One can imagine how trapos and other powerful individuals would push for such a system in the Philippines.

Wouldn’t the allies of the late dictator Marcos be thrilled to have the power to erase links to content exposing the abuses of the Marcos regime?

Wouldn’t the Aquino clan want to get rid of all those stories on the Web about the abuse of Hacienda Luisita peasants?

Wouldn’t Jojo Binay want to take down links to unflattering stories that exposed his record?

Wouldn’t notorious Philippine military or police officers be ecstatic to be able to remove all those stories and reports about human rights abuses and atrocities?

Last week, there was a troubling a sign that “right to be forgotten” could spread beyond Europe.

In a stunning move, the European Union issued guidelines that would apply to all searches, not just those on Europe-based Google sites.

As one London-based privacy attorney told the New York Times, “Right to be forgotten doesn’t show signs of being forgotten anytime soon.”​

Visit the Kuwento page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/boyingpimentel

On Twitter @boyingpimentel

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TAGS: Ampatuan Massacre, erasing online history, European Union, Ferdinand Marcos, Google, right to be forgotten
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