A few days ago, thanks to the “Cartabianca” reform, there was talk in Italy about an issue that has been discussed in Europe for years, the “right to be forgotten applied to the web”, the possibility that individuals eliminate their names from articles available online that are inaccurate or that are no longer up to date.
Italian politics is used to lagging in the great social and cultural phenomena of modernity and this case it is not an exception. The historic sentence of the European Court of Justice, which establishes the right of every citizen to benefit from the right to be forgotten, dates back to 2014. Just take a look around the web to find several companies that promise to offer assistance to anyone who wants to use this tool to restore their online reputation. The paradox is that, although the debate is starting now in the big newspapers, the world’s leading company in the sector – Ealixir Inc. – has dedicated a book to the right to be forgotten, published last year by Mondadori (I Wanted to be Nobody). – Ealixir Inc. an Italian company, listed on the Nasdaq index in New York since July 2020, founded in Milan in 2018, by the entrepreneur Enea Angelo Trevisan. We met him in his office.
How does an unwanted link online compromise a person’s life?
Suppose you have to decide which professional to trust for a service. You have two names in front of you. The first thing you do, most likely, is take a look at Google to verify the credentials of both. Well, suppose that when you insert the name of one of the two, you get a link linked to an unpleasant event that took place in the distant past. Your vision would no longer be neutral, this remote fact would end up influencing your judgment in the present. It could have been years, the person in question could have paid his debt to justice or be completely oblivious to the facts: however, in your mind, doubt will have lurked in the mind, losing that initial neutrality, with the risk discarding to the person with the negative link.
The worst thing is that this same reasoning ends up being repeated over and over again, each time the person with a negative link is looking for a job with the result of losing one opportunity after another, until everything is lost. A curse from which it is impossible to escape.
Suppose that the person in question is guilty of a crime. In this case, isn’t the right to be forgotten against the interests of the community?
The community has every right to have access to sources of information and to read the names and stories of those who have violated the law. But when a certain period of time passes, definitely, when the news is no longer current and relevant to public opinion, the individual protagonist of an unpleasant event has the right to prevent anyone from entering his name in Google and being immediately aware of what happened. Of course, there are exceptions.
For politicians, of course, the right to be forgotten cannot be applied. People have the right to know the past of a person who is a candidate to manage public affairs. Likewise, for some types of crimes that are particularly harmful to the community, such as drug trafficking, mafia association or paedophilia to name a few, the right to be forgotten does not exist or is severely limited. The interest of the community is always protected and the controversies that are heard today seem instrumental to me.
However, once a person’s innocence is proven, the problem should be resolved. Or not?
Not quite. In some court systems, it takes years to reach a sentence. A long period of time during which the person who has a negative link is literally marginalized by society, often unable to work, and ends up not being able to support himself and his family financially. But there is more: the media have always given great prominence to the news about the arrests, especially of prominent figures, while relegating the news of the acquittals to a few lines. That is, the initial articles in which the accusations are discussed, are indexed by Google long before the later ones in which the possible acquittal is reported. It is very rare for anyone seeking information about a particular individual, read all links concerning him: in 99% of the cases the attention is towards the first 10 results (mainly the top 3). That is: those that usually contain negative information.
How do you balance the protection of the right to be forgotten with the protection of freedom of the press?
The right to be forgotten does not limit the freedom of the press in any way. The media are free to report and write any fact related to any individual in the world. However, once the news has passed or when the news itself no longer constitutes a reason of public interest, the right to be forgotten establishes the right of the subject of the news to protect his privacy, preventing the same news from haunting him for life.
Let’s make another effort of imagination. Try to imagine when there was no web: a story would appear in the newspapers or on television, and it was talked about as long as the public was interested in it. Then, inexorably, the news ended up in oblivion, being accessible only to those who wanted to carry out a specific search by consulting an archive. The Internet has changed everything: the news remains available forever and for everyone. Our whole story is only a fraction of a second away, which would be the time of a Google search. In short, an individual’s reputation is forever undermined. The right to be forgotten protects and grants the right of innocent people, or those who have served their sentence, to rebuild their lives.
How long is the time span that must pass so that news is no longer considered current?
There is no predetermined time. It depends on the type of news, the profession and the position of the person involved.
Who are the clients that come to you?
They are absolutely normal people, who have been in the newspapers for some circumstances of their life and who are unable to rebuild a life or lead a “normal” existence years later, precisely because of those negative links. People who cannot work, to whom banks refuse to give credit, often marginalized even in family contexts. They come to us to try to recover fundamental rights that should never be denied to anyone.
In which parts of the world does the right to be forgotten apply?
Everywhere. In fact, we have been active for years in 28 countries around the world. The most advanced legislation is, without a doubt, the European one, but in recent years, the United States and a large part of South America are also adopting those principles affirmed in the ruling of the European Court of Justice of 2014.
However, I want to be clear on one point: the right to be forgotten does not exist because the Cartabianca Reform says so. The right to be forgotten was established by the European Union long ago and has already been used for years. I found it ironic how in the last few days some articles in Italian newspapers were presenting the right to be forgotten as something new, as if they had never heard of it. These are the same newspapers from which, thanks to the right to be forgotten, every day we remove obsolete names and articles to protect our customers.