An exact official definition of the right to be forgotten does not exist. The concept can cover different situations simultaneously with the same objective: for an individual to be able to decide whether information about his or her past is relevant and appropriate for the public to know.
Conventionally, when we speak about the right to be forgotten, we speak more specifically about the right to be forgotten in a digital sense. This of course does not alter how people are remembered, nor does it change archived information or rewrite history: it aims to prevent old information from being publicized as new.
The right to be forgotten digitally is not really a discussion of being forgotten or of memory. It is more a question of the publicity of information and therefore its display. The fundamental issues at this time are that storage capacity is endless and that the image of a person is essentially defined by certain algorithms that choose information and the order in which it will be displayed.
The emergence of search engines has raised this question: does a physical person need to be followed by elements of his or her past, especially ones that have been selected by a machine?
The right to be forgotten as a legal statement no longer exists. As of May 13, 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union rendered a long-awaited ruling about the “right to be forgotten” that was covered extensively by the press. However this decision was not about the right to be forgotten.
The European judge, in this case, decided that search engines are legally responsible for the personal data that is displayed by their sites. In other words, they need to comply with the requirements of European laws that address the subject and be accountable to individuals.
Since this decision, a natural person can contact a search engine directly with a request for deindexation on the basis of the European law governing the rights of data concerning an individual’s personal information and reputation. In practice, the decision to delete or keep a result will be made with an effort to maintain a balance: to respect the legislation on one part (obsolete or irrelevant data) and, on the other part, the public’s right to be informed.
The consequence is a form of the right to be forgotten. But the notion was not specified by the judge in his decision. By convenience, and to make it easier to understand, we ourselves therefore refer to the legal decision and the established procedures as the right to be forgotten, in italics.
Last update: 2015-03-02