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'Right to be forgotten' law aids convicted driver conceal past

GOOGLE search results about a Scottish businessman who refused a breath test after driving at 80mph with a wheel missing are to vanish under Europe's controversial 'right to be forgotten' law.

Google has already received more than 91,000 'takedown' requests from  EuropePhotographs: Marcio Jose Sanchez
Google has already received more than 91,000 'takedown' requests from EuropePhotographs: Marcio Jose Sanchez

This newspaper's owners have been told by the internet giant that links to an article by our sister paper, The Herald, will now disappear following a 'right to be forgotten' request.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in favour of a Spanish lawyer who complained about internet searches of his name producing an old article stating his house had been repossessed.

Citizens can ask search engines such as Google to remove the results of searches made under their name, if the information is deemed inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive.

As of July this year, Google had received more than 91,000 'takedown' requests across Europe. The ECJ decision has sparked a global debate on whether the so-called 'right to be forgotten' will allow individuals with a chequered past to erase details of their misdeeds.

Jimmy Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia, has described the ruling as completely insane.

Newsquest (Herald & Times), publisher of The Herald and the Sunday Herald, was informed last week that links to a story from 1997 will no longer be available.

The article reported how a businessman admitted dangerous and careless driving in his luxury car, and of failing to provide a breath test specimen. He crashed his vehicle into three parked cars in Glasgow, ripping the front nearside wheel assembly from its mountings.

A court heard how he then drove down the M8 with only three wheels, after which he refused to comply with a request for a breath test. A later article stated the individual was given community service and banned for driving for four years.

Years later, the same individual attracted more press coverage over the collapse of a firm of which he was a director.

Google's notice of removal states: "Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, we are no longer able to show one or more pages from your site in our search results in response to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers."

It is not clear who requested the 'takedown'. Requests are handled by Google in Europe and media outlets have no right of appeal. Newspapers have also been informed that search results relating to a story about former Scottish referee Dougie McDonald, who was alleged to have lied about his reasons for reversing a penalty decision in a Celtic match, have been removed.

David McKie, partner in Levy and McRae solicitors and Head of Media Law at the University of Glasgow, said: "As with any legal case, there are two sides to the argument. I have had clients who have struggled to find work - or have been professionally embarrassed - because of stupid, often drunken, transgressions committed 10 years before, which remain available to read at the click of a button.

"However, the decision can also be seen as an attack on freedom of expression, because the removal of information could become a largely arbitrary and selective process.

"In the same way as injunctions often make a story bigger than intended, I expect to see the attempted removal of material relating to public figures to be exposed as a 'gagging story' in itself, so there may be ways round this for gossip websites and tabloid newspapers."

David Drummond, Senior Vice President of Google, said he disagreed with the ECJ ruling, adding: "It's a complex issue, with no easy answers. So a robust debate is both welcome and necessary, as, on this issue at least, no search engine has an instant or perfect answer."

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