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Internet laws The right to be 'forgotten' online: Where does Nigeria stand on this?

The debate might be characterised as a showdown: privacy and compassion versus information and freedom.

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The right to be forgotten is one case that needs to be balanced by objective authorities. play

The right to be forgotten is one case that needs to be balanced by objective authorities.


The right to be forgotten on the internet is an issue that deals with privacy, image and reputation protection.

For example if someone has had a bad history in the past, probably a criminal record, and has since moved on to becoming a changed person, he wouldn’t want the internet to present him in that light that could mar his chances of advancing in aspects of life such as with career and business opportunities.

This term brought about by The European Union Law, seeks to protect privacy of people by instructing search engines like Google to remove links associated with certain personal data.

You could refer to it as the right to delist.


Brief history of how ‘’The right to be forgotten” came to be

In the 1990s, Spanish man Mario Costeja González had financial problems that found their way into an online newspaper piece. Years later, González wanted that past forgotten, but the internet would not forget.

González asked the newspaper to remove the article. When it refused, he asked Google to stop linking to it in search results. When it refused, complaints escalated to court proceedings.

The proceedings resulted in a May 2014 European Court of Justice decision. The court held that Google has an obligation to remove links to personal data that are inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive.

This obligation wasn’t binding on the newspaper; only Google was required to remove links to the offending article even if the article itself would remain online. This obligation, which also affects other search engines, is the idea behind the right to be forgotten.

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Striking a balance

The court held that the right to be forgotten must be “fairly” balanced against the public’s interest in having access to information. Generally, the right to delist would override the interests of other internet users. However, in some cases, the balance should be struck the other way and the information should not be removed.

Google, in most cases is responsible for striking that balance.

Debate over scope of enforcement

The scope of the right to be forgotten has been argued out. Since May 2014, Google has begrudgingly implemented it in Europe as against globally. It has removed links, but only in its European-domain incarnations, such as google.co.uk.

Content that was removed from European search results is still available, even within Europe, by simply using a version of Google from a non-European country.

This has upset Europeans. In November 2014, a European Commission working party called for the right to be enforced globally. In May 2015, this was echoed by the French Data Regulator.

Google appealed the regulator’s order to expand the delisting worldwide. In September 2015, the appeal was rejected. If Google refused to comply, it could face the prospect of massive fines.

Globalized censorship

Google have had to back down eventually. The search giants have since been expanding its implementation of the right to be forgotten to cover all domain-name iterations of its search engine.

You could look at it more like a global expansion of European law, meaning it’s supposed to only apply to internet users in Europe. However, if a user’s device has a European IP address, all versions of Google will have right-to-be-forgotten links removed but if the device has an IP address of any other place, the links will be available.

The right still faces implementation issues within Europe thanks to use of a virtual private network (VPN),  European internet users would  be able to disguise themselves and avoid capture by Google’s IP-based filter. They could then access links that would otherwise be unavailable in that location.

How Nigeria is approaching the matter

In a place like Australia, access to information is valued by Australians as part of the Freedom of expression. The Australian Law Reform Commission found that Australia does not need the right to be forgotten. It did not recommend introduction of a right to delist in Australian law. One argument for this could be that right to be forgotten has a negative impact on unbiased journalism.

In a place like Nigeria, it remains to be seen where the law stands on this matter. For those who may have information about them they would rather wish away from search results, it is certain if it is within their powers, they would make the stories disappear. Perhaps a balance could be struck, this is where internet lawyers and the minister of ICT (closest thing to that in Nigeria now is the Minister of communication) should come in and have a roundtable meeting with Google on behalf of its citizenry.

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