Lawmakers in Russia are just a couple votes away from passing a sweeping “right to be forgotten” law that critics say would be technically impossible to follow while also preventing citizens from accessing important information online.
The European Union already has its own right to be forgotten law that lets citizens submit links to specific web pages and ask that those pages be removed from search results related to the person’s name. The EU’s criteria gives search engines the right to evaluate whether the person making the request is a public figure or private citizen, and whether the information has general public interest.
But, as the New York Times explains, the proposed law in Russia goes a lot further:
At its core, the proposal is similar to one approved by a top European court last year that forced Google to start removing links from search results for individuals’ names, but has two major differences that push the Russian law far beyond the way the idea is being applied in Europe.
In Europe, Google set up a process so people could point out links they wanted removed from their own name-search results, along with an explanation of why the content was “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”
In the Russian version, however, people wouldn’t have to provide specific hyperlinks — but merely say what information they want deleted, giving their right a far greater reach than their European counterparts.
Furthermore, the Russian version extends the right to erasure to public figures and information that is considered in the public interest. In Europe, public figures are not included in the right to be forgotten.
Russia’s law would apply worldwide, something that Google and European countries are currently fighting over.
Yandex, the biggest search engine in Russia, has voiced its criticism of the law in a blog post, saying it “impedes people’s access to important and reliable information, or makes it impossible to obtain such information.”
Beyond the information access issues, Yandex also says the law creates a burden on search engines that would be technically impossible to implement.
Instead of deleting hyperlinks to specific web pages from search results, a search engine is expected to stop retrieving a piece of information on any search terms and regardless of its location on the internet. For this to become plausible, a search engine operator would have to find all pages containing this information that might appear in any place in search results triggered by any search term that a human mind can come up with. This step alone would take eternity. The next steps would require a search engine operator to make sure that these pages do contain the information hyperlinks to which were requested to be removed, and then confirm that this information is indeed inadequate or older than three years old. It is obvious that this is an impossible task.
According to the New York Times, the bill only needs two more votes and the president’s signature to become law; it would take effect on January 1, 2016.