It is quite clearly right and just that not all of our past behaviour follows us around as an anchor upon our ambitions. We were all young once and that means some very large percentage of us were also stupid. We’ve encoded this into the very law with the idea of convictions for this or that being spent. Even though we did it, got caught and sentenced, it’s no longer relevant and thus doesn’t appear in basic – at least – searches about our criminal or not past.
We’ve also, more controversially, gone on to say that such shouldn’t turn up in Google searches either. That’s a bit more of a problem:
Criminals are to have the “right to be forgotten” after Google lost a landmark High Court case to a businessman who asked it to remove information about his conviction.
The man, who cannot be identified, had a spent conviction for conspiracy to carry out surveillance and had been sent to prison for six months.
Mr Justice Warby, sitting in the High Court, said his offending and sentence, which was served over a decade ago, was “of little if any relevance” to future business activity and ordered that the links should be “delisted”.
“The crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google Search to justify its continued availability, so that an appropriate delisting order should be made,” he said.
The man also had a young, second family, as well as adult children, which added to his case for privacy under the Human Rights Act, the judge said. He did not award any damages.
My own view is that we shouldn’t be doing this. What is relevant depends upon what the person with the information thinks is relevant, not what some judge does. I’m out of step, as is so often true.
But here comes the problem – how deep does and should the cleaning of that past go? Is it, for example, legal to include the information in a blog post? In the search function of a particular site? Are the newspaper archives reporting the original conviction to be cleansed?
That is, how much are we to change our record of history in order to protect that right to privacy, which is where the cleanse itself comes from? My supposition is that the law doesn’t just apply to search engines – so, where does it end?
Do we ban and or burn books that were published containing that information when it was entirely legal to do so?