Wikipedia contests EU ruling on 'right to be forgotten'

Wikipedia has been criticised for deciding not to comply with the 'right to be forgotten', a key proponent of the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Law, with UK watchdog ICO also voicing concerns over logistics.

When speaking at Wikipedia's annual Wikimania conference in London yesterday, founder Jimmy Wales said that the ‘right to be forgotten' is ‘tyrannical censorship', and believes Google should be able to choose which search results it shows, in the same way that a magazine can choose what goes on its front cover.

Wales continued that history was a human right, and said that “one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another”. Wikipedia has been notified of more than 50 links already removed from Google. Other search engines may have also removed links to the website without notifying them, as they are not required to.

In Wikipedia's protest against the ruling, they have not only refused 86 percent of the removal requests received but have also posted the removal notices online.

Whilst accepting the fact that inaccurate information does need to be removed, Wikimedia executives were adamant that all accurate information should still be online and searchable, even if outdated or irrelevant.

Executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Lila Tretikov, said the ruling is creating ‘memory holes', as accurate results aren't being shown. Wikipedia cannot continue to build an easily accessible online encyclopaedia without certain information, or information “based on pre-edited histories” said Tretikov, who continued with “accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review, and no appeals process.” 

Meanwhile, in related news, ICO deputy commissioner and director of data protection David Smith has voiced new concerns about the EU's ruling in a blog post.

“The publicity given to the judgment has certainly raised awareness of people's data protection rights, and we understand that several thousand search results and URLs have already been taken down, showing that the judgment is starting to have an effect.”

“In this early phase it is important for the search engines, firstly, to give members of the public the opportunity to ‘tell their story' in terms of explaining why a search result is problematic and, secondly, to give people a reasonable explanation when they refuse a take-down request. This is important in terms of transparency but will also ensure that we have all the information we need to adjudicate on complaints.”

Smith added that the ICO had ‘not seen many complaints' but he expects the number to increase.  Interestingly, he advised that some individuals might be better off ‘pursuing their complaint with the original publisher' – which is in stark contrast to what happened in the Google Spain case.

“The next period is going to be challenging in terms of the volume of complaints we may receive and the complexity of some of the issues we'll be dealing with,” he said, further adding: “Domestically, we've seen a certain amount of confusion over what the judgment actually said. The big change was that it said search engines are data controllers and so have to play by the data protection rules."

Smith did, however, add that the ICO was disappointed with the House of Lord's ruling that the solution is ‘unworkable'.