Key tribunal witness in failed bid to be ‘forgotten’ online

Data Protection Commissioner reveals witness tried to use Google searches rule

A key witness to a recent and long-standing tribunal tried unsuccessfully to avail of the "right to be forgotten" rule in relation to Google searches, the Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, has revealed.

Ms Dixon did not disclose the name of the witness during an address on the topic of Data protection – the right to know and the right to be forgotten, to a student legal convention in University College Dublin yesterday.

Following a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice, Google and other search engine controllers have to consider requests from people to delete certain search links associated with their names. Ms Dixon told the convention Google has had more than 4,000 requests since the ruling, and that each one had to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Refusals can be appealed to the national data protection authority.

The Irish authority has had 55 appeals made to it, involving Google, Yahoo and Bing, with 51 of these involving Google. In 30 cases the commissioner has agreed with the Google decision, and in 17 it has sided with the complainant and requested the controller to delist the link. However the multinationals do not just “roll over”.

In one instance, the Irish authority considered a case of a person convicted of dangerous driving causing death who had served their prison sentence but was still subject to a driving ban. It upheld the original decision. Likewise with the unidentified key witness to a long- standing tribunal. “We decided it was in the public interest to leave [the link] there.”

Potholes interview

A case where the authority sided with the complainant involved someone who had been interviewed by a local newspaper years earlier about potholes.

Based on the view the matter was now out of date, the authority agreed with the request.

Ms Dixon emphasised the original publication in such cases still exists. It is the link to searches under the person’s name that is affected. Searches under other words can still throw up the original publication. She said a lot of the requests received to date have to do with court appearances. There are seven ongoing cases, and one which is being appealed to the Circuit Court.

In another address to the convention, barrister Paul Hutchinson said there was concern among practitioners about going down the road of trying to control crime by targeting the rights of people who are brought before the courts.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent