Organiser & Moderator: Clive Cookson (UK), Science Editor, Financial Times & Member, IMMC ESOF 2016. Aidan Gilligan (IRL), Founder & CEO, SciCom – Making Sense of Science & Vice-Chair, IMMC ESOF 2016 / GB Euroscience.

Tuesday 26th July, 2016: 14h15 – 15h30

Session Abstract:

Which matters most – an individual’s right to be forgotten or society’s right to know about their past? For example, if a murderer or paedophile serves a prison sentence, why should his or her neighbours be aware? Who should decide if a request for delisting and deletion of information, videos or photographs from a publicly available database is valid? Does it risk decreasing the quality of the Internet through censorship or even rewriting history?

Does it matter where the website is based or the data stored? Views differ. Whereas Europe’s data protection laws are intended to prevent the indiscriminate release of potentially damaging, private information about individuals, the US First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and the right to know. This round-table brings together experts from industry, law and media to discuss the implications of the European Court of Justice ruling in 2014 – that individuals have the right to ask Google and other search engines to remove links to content about them that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.” Implications range from key ethical challenges to the future of social media business and of the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement. The overriding question is if retaining a private life is even possible and can a global judicial framework ever be made to work?


UK Flag
Organiser & Moderator
: Clive Cookson (UK),
Science Editor, Financial Times & Member, IMMC ESOF 2016.

Irish Flag
Aidan Gilligan (IRL),
Founder & CEO, SciCom – Making Sense of Science & Vice-Chair, IMMC ESOF 2016 / GB Euroscience.


Presentation Title: ‘The Right To Know’

US Flag Speaker 1:
Jodie Ginsberg (USA),
Chief Executive, Index on Censorship Magazine

Talk Description:

When Europe’s highest court ruled in May 2014 that individuals had a ‘right to be forgotten’ many were quick to hail this as a victory for privacy. ‘Private’ individuals would now be able to ask search engines to remove links to information they considered irrelevant or outmoded. In theory, this sounds appealing. Which one of us would not want to massage the way in which we are represented to the outside world? Certainly, anyone who has had malicious smears spread about them in false articles or embarrassing pictures posted of their teenage exploits, or even criminals whose convictions are spent and have the legal right to rehabilitation. In practice, though, the ruling was far too blunt, far too broad brush, and gave far too much power to the search engines to be effective. The woolly wording of the ruling – its failure to include clear checks and balances, or any form of proper oversight – presents a major risk. Private companies like Google should not be the final arbiters of what should and should not be available for people to find on the internet. It is like the government devolving power to librarians to decide what books people can read (based on requests from the public) and then locking those books away. There is no appeal mechanism, no transparency about how the search engines and others arrive at decisions about what to remove or not, and very little clarity on what classifies as ‘relevant’. Privacy campaigners argue that the ruling offers a public interest protection element (politicians and celebrities should not be able to request the right to be forgotten, for example), but it is hugely over simplistic to argue that simply by excluding serving politicians and current stars from the request process that the public’s interest will be protected. I will explore some of the recent examples of stories to which links have been removed and the current appeal by Google to France's high court over the ruling.

Presentation Title: ‘The Right To Be Forgotten’

France Flag Speaker 2:
Dr. Laurent Beslay (FR),
Project Leader, Surveillance Technologies & Citizen Action, European Commission, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (Joint Research Centre)  

Talk Description:

The right to be forgotten is far from a new principle, notion or right. Of course the 2014 ruling of the ECJ and more recently the newly adopted GDPR have enlightened this principle and consolidated its position within the European legislative ecosystem.  It should be considered as the keystone of the right to privacy: a fundamental right enshrined in the EU charter of fundamental rights and its article 7 “Respect for private and family life “.  It is also interesting to underline that the right to privacy has been primarily defined as a right to be let alone for an individual (but also for a country apparently…).

Escaping from the radar of the Society was before the advent of the Information Society a not so challenging task. But with the raise of the (intelligent) machine such as a cookie, embedded sensors or the master and most intimate of all these information devices: a smartphone, it has become almost impossible to exercise this critical right.  In a traditional/physical and not connected world, the individual used to deal with privacy through the management of distances: the closer the more information you have access to and create accordingly boundaries/border between the self and the information which define the individual. This ancestral function has been dramatically challenged by the digital age.

I will explore and argue that fostering the right to be forgotten is the (right) way for giving back to the individual the control of his/her freedom. Erasing information should be seen as offering more distance from the self. I will also illustrate the too often confusion which is taking place between the right to know and the duty of remembrance (the paedophile example) and provide as well examples of the revolution of managing distance with other.

Presentation Title:
‘Is Retaining A Private Life Even Possible?’

South African Flag Speaker 3:
Prof. Julian Kinderlerer (SA/UK),
Prof of Intellectual Law, Cape Town University & Past-President, European Group in Ethics in Science & New Technologies (EGE)

Talk Description:

A short while ago the chair of a national ethics committee commented to me that ‘privacy is dead’. Is it? We have allowed a huge amount of information about us as individuals, often uncorrelated, to be amassed and available easily, whether in the public domain on search engines or purchasable. Any exploit which results in publication in newspapers or on the internet is now easily traceable.  Some of the information is placed in the public domain by us knowingly – using systems like Facebook; other pieces of information are collected as we have opted, for example, into the collection by supermarkets of our purchase history. Information regarding our medical history is even relatively easily available, for good medical reasons.  We expect hospitals to have our records on hand, but it means that access is wider than it was in the past. The Hippocratic Oath - “All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal” has effectively been modified with the addition of a clause “except to other health professionals”.

Computing power has made it simple to take this mass of data and legally or otherwise cross-correlate the information to provide a picture of an individual which may be more complete and in depth than the individual knows about themselves. There is, however, personal information which most of us would like not to be in the public domain.  Can this be protected, and can we stop others using accessing such information. If such information is inadvertently in the public domain, for whatever reason, can an individual ‘require’ its removal.  In the EU this may well be the case.  Under Article 12 of the currently in-force data protection directive an individual should be able to require anyone who holds data about them to rectify, erase or block the use of the data under appropriate circumstances. If data is no longer necessary or is irrelevant for the purpose for which it was collected or processed, whatever that data is, the individual may request its removal from all systems in which it appears.  This is an extremely arduous requirement.  Of course, the right to have data erased is not absolute.  There may be a compelling reason for the data to be retained. For example, in the UK there is a long list of professions or employment where convictions are not expunged, including teaching, the medical profession, the financial professions (including accountants) and even taxi drivers.

The right to be forgotten is all about empowering individuals to manage their personal data while explicitly protecting the freedom of expression and of the media. Can it work? Can we retain a private life? Is there really personal information which an individual can choose not to share, or when shared, can require its recall?  These are questions society has to address.