Right to be forgotten? What about the right to remember..?

Konnekt CEO Josef Said says the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ should be revisited because the law is being hijacked by people who have good reason to want their past buried

CEO of Konnekt, Josef Said
CEO of Konnekt, Josef Said

The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ was enshrined in EU law in 2014. If requested, this law dictates that search engines and other directories (such as court judgements) must delete any links to information on an individual, as long as it is ‘inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive.’ This ‘delisting’ prevents material from being found through search engines like Google.

Therefore, if you are haunted by a compromising picture of yourself, aged 18, at a stag night, or hamstrung by the report of an old arrest, this could be your ticket to freedom – but it comes at a price.

That price is the erosion of collective memory. It is generally in the common interest for information to be freely available. While some people might find their lives blighted by unfair online distortion, many of those who request to be forgotten have something nefarious to hide. I believe that I should be able to search for, and find fraudsters, crooked business people and criminals.

If that’s important to you too, then you will find Google’s report on de-listings, since 2014, distressing.

The web giant alone has received requests to delete around 3.35 million URLs (webpages) under the new law; surely, other search engines have had a similar barrage of requests. Just under half (46.7%) of those met the criteria. Some of the requests are reasonable; however, the delisting of so many URLs is of concern.

In February 2018, Fortune.com reported that only one thousand individuals were behind 15% of these requests.

Meaning that this is not just about people trying to recover from a foolish escapade in their youth – the law is being hijacked by people who have good reason to want their past buried. One of the cases in the Google report includes a man convicted of benefit fraud, to which Google delisted 293 URLs before evidence of his ‘innocence’ was proven to be forged.

Another case of a former bank clerk who stole money from elderly people had four articles delisted because his conviction was ‘legally spent’ under UK law. In a more recent case, two businessmen (known as NT1 and NT2) took Google to court over their refusal to remove URLs linked to their convictions for conspiracy, false accounting and intercepting communications.

NT1 lost, but NT2, who had shown remorse, won, setting a precedent for future court battles. From May 28, 2014 till December 31, 2020 Malta has had 2,782 requests to delist.

Of these, 620 (22%) were delisted. The sites most impacted were Times of Malta (56 URLs), The Malta Independent (37 URLs), MaltaToday (23 URLs) and justiceservices.gov.mt (12 URLs).

As one of the directors of Malta’s largest recruitment agencies, I am concerned, as this makes crucial information on candidates or clients harder to find. We operate in highly regulated markets like Financial Services, Gaming and Pharma, where this information is vital.

Transparency makes for good decision-making, and it also increases accountability. Access to information is essential to protect both clients and candidates from fraudsters.

We also see ‘right to be forgotten requests’ lodged within Maltese law courts. In 2018, Times of Malta reported that 22 judgments were deleted from their online database. We rely heavily on information contained in such databases and other sites; it allows us to challenge people on specific details, and it gives the parties a chance to share their side of the story.

All of this will enable us to make a judgment call with the information at hand. We’re taught to be accountable for our actions, however, the EU Commission seems to disagree, and allows us to erase our past mistakes.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ should not be a given. People in EU institutions make mistakes, but they can also kickstart the process to reverse this new and dangerous right.

The more transparency we have, the fewer incentives people have to break the rules; the legislative impetus should always be for transparency, not opacity. Ultimately, everyone’s right to remember outweighs any individual’s right to be forgotten.

Josef Said is the CEO of Konnekt, Malta’s largest recruitment agency. Konnekt assists candidates with their job search and helps employers find the right talent for their organisation. Find out more about Konnekt by clicking here.