Sep 25, 2019 - Technology

The EU's top court confines the continent's "right to be forgotten"

A pixelated person disintegrating.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The uniquely European "right to be forgotten" will be limited to that continent, per a ruling by the European Union's top court on Tuesday.

Driving the news: Google has won a major case in Europe over the EU's "right to be forgotten," meaning the search giant will not be forced to filter search results for Europeans outside of the region.

  • The New York Times this week told the story of Italian journalist Alessandro Biancardi, who refused to pull an article about a fight between 2 brothers just because one of them wanted it removed.

History lesson: A 2014 ruling granted European citizens the right to ask search engines to remove sensitive or outdated information from listings about their past. The French government wanted the ruling to be applied globally.

  • Google has been a frequent target, telling the Times it has received more than 3.3 million requests to delete search results, including news items, criminal convictions and posts from social media. Per the Times, Google has removed the items in 45% of cases, while either rejecting or fighting the remainder of the requests.

Between the lines: Many people inside and outside of Europe question the wisdom and legitimacy of the right to be forgotten.

  • "Nobody will ever convince me that a law forcing you to delete truthful news can exist," Biancardi told the Times.

What's at stake: The debate balances two important ideas — the understandable human desire to be able to start afresh against society's interest in keeping an accurate record of people's actions in the past.

Our thought bubble: The well-intentioned law aims to keep people's mistakes from living forever online. But at a time where we are having enough trouble learning the lessons of history, giving anyone the right to erase the past might cause more problems than it solves.

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