News organizations must unite with tech world on "right to be forgotten"

Bruce D. Brown | Privacy | Analysis | May 19, 2016

At the Reporters Committee gala in New York this week, honorees Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the Knight Foundation, and Eve Burton, General Counsel of Hearst, were in perfect sync as they spoke about the convergence between the news media and technology companies. With many key legal questions unresolved as journalism continues its historic transformation to the digital world, the future of the First Amendment depends upon these two industries aligning their interests to confront the next generation of free press/free speech challenges.

Nothing better illustrates these shared concerns than the growing threat over the "right to be forgotten." Last September, the Reporters Committee submitted a letter on behalf of a large coalition of U.S. news organizations supporting Google in its clashes with the French data protection agency, CNIL, over implementation of this new right. Regulators at CNIL have continued to insist that to comply with French law Google must remove search results worldwide and have fined the company for resisting.

In the face of this global deletion demand, Google has just taken its case to the Conseil d’Etat, which hears administrative appeals in France.  As Kent Walker, Google’s General Counsel, explained in an article published in Le Monde, “We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate.  But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries perhaps less open and democratic start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?”

The fight Google is waging to oppose CNIL’s extraterritorial ambitions is one of the most existential of today’s Internet battles. The op-ed I co-wrote with Stanford’s Daphne Keller in the New York Times has more background on what is at stake in this case. Journalists and news organizations should follow this appeal closely and support Google’s stand.