Judges on Europe's highest court may have thought they were striking a blow for individual privacy when they ruled Tuesday that search engines could be ordered to stop linking to sensitive or older information about people online, even if it had been lawfully published. Instead, they were creating an entitlement to censor history, or at least to make parts of the public record harder to find.
The case began when a Spanish lawyer, Mario Costeja González, did a
The Internet certainly has changed the privacy equation in many ways, both good and bad. Many formerly obscure pieces of personal information collected by public agencies are now easy to find online, even by people who aren't searching specifically for them. Utterances and images never fade once they are uploaded. And search engines present personal information in a different, potentially misleading context, ranking tidbits of data according to secret algorithms.
But one of the many flaws in the ruling is that it unfairly focuses on Google and other search engines, which aren't the real problem here. They're not repositories for the data that people might want to remove; they are just remarkably efficient tools for finding things online. And whether a piece of information is relevant or valuable is in the eyes of the beholder. One of the beauties of the Internet, after all, is the extent to which it gives anyone with a browser access to troves of knowledge that had previously been locked in government offices, publishers' morgues and other storage vaults of the analog era.