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Delicate Balance Between Right to be Forgotten and Information Access

The right of oblivion (ledroit a l’oubli) has a distinctly French air, perhaps more reminiscent of existentialist philosophy than of legal codes. That right, though, is enshrined in French law, providing convicted criminals with a sort of de facto expunction. Under the law, an individual who has served his sentence and completed all aspects of his criminal rehabilitation may petition to prevent the media from publishing accounts of his crime and punishment.

The European Union is now attempting to transfer this doctrine of a right of oblivion to the Internet. The 1995 European Union Data Protection Directive established a variety of rights concerning the collection and use of an individual’s personal data. Among those rights is a right to seek from a data controller the “rectification, erasure or blocking” of personal data.

This article discusses “the right of oblivion” in the context of a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice, which recognized an individual’s right to have search engines remove links to online content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.” The author examines the ruling in light of the European data privacy model and implications for American data privacy.