Stunning ruling

The European Court of Justice ruled against Google Tuesday in a move that may have a far-reaching effect in the debate between privacy and free speech/free press.

The European Union’s highest court ruled that individuals can ask search engines to remove links that pop up when their name is “Googled.” The Wall Street Journal reported that individuals could ask Google, Yahoo, Bing, et al., to delete links to news articles and court documents.

The court said countries could force the search engines to remove the links if there was not sufficient evidence they were in the public interest.

The Journal article said proponents of this “right to be forgotten” argue that old documents could be deemed an infringement on privacy. Opponents argue that companies will be swamped with requests to scrub websites of historical data. If search engines can be ordered to destroy the links, can the companies that the links led to be forced to erase their archives?

Though we normally worry about privacy when it comes to the Net, this ruling smacks of rewriting history. This judgment applies only to Europe but we predict disastrous results even there.

Will news organizations be swamped with requests to erase from their archives court stories about convictions? Will pages from a few years ago containing foreclosure notices be deemed “not in the public interest” by some local magistrate and ordered to be removed from archives?

Will historical events be rewritten in Soviet style to punish those out of power and burnish those currently in favor?

It is a slippery slope when a court tells private companies they are not allowed to display historical data. Today, in Europe, it is the search engines. Tomorrow, it will be news organizations. The day after tomorrow, it will be individuals.

The government will decide what is history and what is not.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.