The New York Times reports on online privacy issues in Europe and the question of the “right to be forgotten”:
[In Spain,] as elsewhere in Europe, an idea has taken hold —individuals should have a “right to be forgotten” on the Web.
Spain’s government is now championing this cause. It has ordered Google to stop indexing information about 90 citizens who filed formal complaints with its Data Protection Agency. The case is now in court and being watched closely across Europe for how it might affect the control citizens will have over information they posted, or which was posted about them, on the Web.
Whatever the ruling in the Spanish case, the European Union is also expected to weigh in with new “right to be forgotten” regulations this fall. Viviane Reding, the European Union’s justice commissioner, has offered few details of what she has in mind. But she has made clear she is determined to give privacy watchdogs greater power. […]
On this issue, experts say, Europe and the United States have largely parted company.
“What you really have here is a trans-Atlantic clash,” said Franz Werro, who was born and raised in Switzerland and is now a law professor at Georgetown University. “The two cultures really aren’t going in the same direction when it comes to privacy rights. “
For instance, in the United States, Mr. Werro said, courts have consistently found that the right to publish the truth about someone’s past supersedes any right to privacy. Europeans, he said, see things differently: “In Europe you don’t have the right to say anything about anybody, even if it is true.”
Mr. Werro says Europe sees the need to balance freedom of speech and the right to know against a person’s right to privacy or dignity, concepts often enshrined in European laws. The European perspective was shaped by the way information was collected and used against individuals under dictators like Franco and Hitler and under Communism. Government agencies routinely compiled dossiers on citizens as a means of control. […]
Mr. Werro says many Europeans, including himself, are broadly uncomfortable with the way personal information is found by search engines and used for commerce. When ads pop up on his screen, clearly linked to subjects that are of interest to him, he says he finds it Orwellian.
A recent poll conducted by the European Union found that most Europeans agree. Three out of four said they were worried about how Internet companies used their information and wanted the right to delete personal data at any time. Ninety percent wanted the European Union to take action on the right to be forgotten.