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The Right to Be Forgotten

Written by Victoria Piong

With social media dominating the world, the importance of safeguarding the public’s privacy is as prevalent as it can be. Despite that, one significant part of this discussion is often left behind in the discussion of these matters – the right to be forgotten.

The Right to be Forgotten is the right of individuals to remove personal data concerning them from the internet if they fulfil the conditions that apply, as established in Article 17 of the GDPR for the member states of the European Union. According to the GDPR, this right is enforced in a plethora of conditions, such as when an individual withdraws their consent of the data or when the data is no longer necessary. When this happens, the data is required to be removed “without undue delay”.

Though this can appear rather straightforward, this right’s true controversial nature is brought put when it clashes with other rights that we deem necessary. This includes freedom of expression: should the press remove data the public wants to know just because someone withdrew their consent? Case after case, the reconsideration of sacrificing the freedom of expression and fulfilling public interest in certain pieces information for a piece of data to be ‘forgotten’ has garnered substantial debate. Think for yourself. Do you think the right to be forgotten is an ‘obstacle to the internet’, or is it a ‘clear victory for Data Protection’ as it presents itself?

Key Case

The Google Spain Case (Google Spain v APED and Mario Costeja) was the key case that brought the right out of dormancy, allowing it to generate the attention that attracted researched and developed in legislation. This case features Mario Costeja exercising his right to object to the specific processing of his data. The data came from the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, who published announcements of forced sale properties in 1998 that included Mr Costeja’s name. Although Mr Costeja had contacted the newspaper agency to remove his name from the newspaper, they had refused. Following this, Mr Costeja then proceeded to contact Google Spain directly, who then forwarded the request to the Google Inc’s main headquarters in the USA. They too refused. This left Mr Costeja no choice but to lodge a complaint to higher powers: the Spanish Data Protection Agency. This case went further up to the Court of Justice of the European Union, where the battle came to a victory for Mr Costeja.

Further Impacts

After the Google Spain case, this right has been enacted in many other areas over the years. Criminals that have served their sentence look to have newspaper articles on their conviction erased. Prostitutes hoping to start a new life seek to remove evidence of their work online. Victims of revenge porn seek to have their photos and videos posted without their consent to be ‘forgotten’. But how can that be balanced with maintaining the freedom of expressing yourself online and the right of people to know what has been reported on?

In many countries, this right is yet to even be discussed. The right to be forgotten still has a long way to go in terms of becoming a globally recognised human right, and yet it is slowly becoming a forgotten right as its importance has faded in the world’s minds.


Victoria Piong Ji Eun is a first-year Law student attending King’s College London. She is interested in commercial law, and enjoys researching areas of technology law spanning from its intellectual property to digital regulation.

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