Here's everything you should know about the right to be forgotten

Laws granting the ‘right to be forgotten’ might seem like they’re about isolated cases of image control. In fact, this legislation could have huge implications for storing all types of information. As debates about whether Europeans can protect their data on a worldwide basis rage on, observers are starting the wonder where the laws end.

What's going on?

Though you might think we've only heard about the 'right to be forgotten' recently, the idea behind this legislation isn't novel: the 1931 US legal case 'Melvin vs. Reid' involved a woman (unsuccessfully) tried for murder suing a film producer who revealed her history. There are no secrets in Hollywood, it seems...

So what's changed? Well, in short – the internet. Search engines are increasingly comprehensive when it comes to finding and storing personal data, sparking fears that many individuals will have their prospects negatively affected by online records of personal difficulties.

In 2010, a Spanish citizen filed a complaint against Google for keeping details related to the auction of his former home online. The individual in question had been forced into selling his property by financial problems, and argued that Google's listing was damaging his reputation long after his situation had improved.

In response to this case, the EU investigated whether its citizens have the right to request removal of their data under the 1995 Data Protection Directive. A later ruling decided that they do, and the issue became a global talking point.

How does it work?

EU citizens can ask search engines to remove personal information that is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”, even when the information is stored outside the EU. All requests to delete information must be balanced against the rights to 'freedom of expression' and 'freedom of the media' on a case-by-case basis.

In 2014, the EU Court issued a ruling which made clear that all companies operating in Europe must apply EU data protection rules. Legal action is also being taken against Google in France to ensure that data deleted on local platforms is removed from all Google sites.

As it stands, the 'right to be forgotten' has obvious implications for people seeking privacy, but how far can its influence stretch? While nobody knows for certain, the consensus seems to be edging towards upholding data protection rulings globally. In future, search engines may find themselves recruiting teams to process high volumes of 'forget me' requests, and, what's more, we might even see the emergence of new companies who'll deal with privacy-related matters on behalf of the major players.

If you're interested in changes to data protection laws, check back with The Money Cloud and we'll keep you up to date.

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