Today, a very bad European law could officially become a menace to free expression worldwide.
It’s called the “right to be forgotten,” and it was established five years ago when Europe’s Court of Justice said governments there have the power to force the deletion of outdated, irrelevant and even just embarrassing material from the internet.
Advocates initially envisioned scrubbing of the public record in cases when a newspaper or TV station or blog got something egregiously wrong, or when someone got arrested for a crime and was later exonerated. But the right is being so broadly applied, people are erasing from the first draft of history whatever facts they deem inconvenient. In one outrageous instance, a reporter who got nothing wrong had the book thrown at him, and real news about a serious crime vanished like some purged commissar from an old Soviet photograph.
In 2016, a French data protection regulator tried to force Google to remove all links that contain false information or could unfairly harm an individual’s reputation from its platforms across the world. The company has rightly been fighting ever since, and the Court of Justice this week has another fateful decision to make.
If it makes the wrong one, U.S. laws that proudly privilege freedom of speech could suddenly be big-footed by a new European regime. Such an attack on a core American principles will never be forgotten.