I never Googled myself.
Until 10 minutes ago.
Apparently, there are 141,000 mentions of me on the Internet. I don’t know what all of them say; I got bored after a couple pages.
But there was a photo section that was curious. It had photos of me, photos I took, photos of people I wrote about — and photos that have nothing to do with me save the fact that the names Gerald or Ensley appears on them. Several of them were photos of me that have never been published (or emailed or Facebooked). Pictures I have in print form of my dog and me, my wife and me, etc. I don’t know how they got on the Internet.
But you know what? I don’t care. I long ago accepted you have to live with whatever you do in life. The facts — and the pictures — always exist somewhere.
So if there is embarrassing stuff about me on the Internet, I won’t be suing to take it down — no matter what a European court says.
Earlier this month, the Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, upheld a Spanish court’s ruling that links to unfavorable stories about individuals could be removed from Internet search engines.
The case was filed by a Spanish man whose home was auctioned off in 2002 to pay his debts. A local newspaper ran a story at the time. Though the man has since improved financially,he filed suit against the newspaper and Google because the story was still available online — and he didn’t like it.
So he sued to have the article removed from Google’s search engine. A Spanish court agreed and then — in a major surprise — Europe’s highest court upheld the decision.
It’s opened a philosophical can of worms. On one hand, the court did not rule against the newspaper: Apparently, the public record is still the public record. But by ruling against Google, the court essentially said the Internet is a more flexible tool of information. Many of us would not agree.
In today’s world, electronic access has become a recognized, necessary tool. It’s what allows us to check backgrounds of people applying for jobs, information about products, court rulings, etc., no matter where we are. To deny that access is a hardship in a digital world. The Florida Supreme Court recognized that this year when it lifted a decade-old moratorium on online court records. During that moratorium, one had to go to the county courthouse — wherever it was in Florida —to check the record.
“That’s an almost insurmountable inconvenience in today’s technological world,” Barbara Petersen said. “And if you’re talking about (records) in another country, it is an insurmountable barrier.”
Barbara Petersen is president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation. She is a firm believer in a “big and broad marketplace” of public comment. She said the European ruling is “bizarre” and has “scary consequences.”
But she suggested the European ruling is a reminder the Internet is a still not wholly charted frontier. Every day a new way to manipulate it arises — and they’re not all good.
Petersen pointed to the case last year of Cassidy Wolf, the 2013 Teen USA winner. Hackers gained remote access to the web cam on her computer, took photos of her in her bedroom and attempted to blackmail her.
The culprits were arrested. But that doesn’t address the basic problem: The photos will live forever on the Internet.
“Courts eventually will have to address the issue and come up with some remedy other than just criminal law,” Petersen said. “Yes, (hackers) could be arrested and punished. But the victim has to live with those images the rest of her life, because she can’t remove them.”
Some will say the European ruling is a stand for privacy. Google has been flooded by requests from Europeans who want the links removed to stories about them: e.g., a university lecturer’s suspension at another university, the arrest of a celebrity’s child, an actor’s affair with an underage woman, a man who attempted to kill his family and a company accused of consumer ripoffs.
Yet those are all matters of public record — and key information to prospective employers, neighbors, etc.
“Does the privacy of a pedophile trump public safety?” Petersen asked. “You have a right to privacy, but you can’t expect to keep a matter of public record (quiet).”
The ruling applies only to European countries. Though some American is no doubt considering a similar suit, experts say it’s unlikely to get traction in this country. They say our commitment to the free expression guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution extends even to the Internet.
“While the Internet creates new challenges for protecting privacy, we must face those challenges by relying on our constitutional values, like the right to report on public events, not overturning them,” said Lee Rowland, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington D.C.
“Requiring websites to eliminate or hide access to already public information is a troubling precedent that harms the freedom of expression without producing meaningful gains for the right to privacy.”
Contact senior writer Gerald Ensley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-599-2310.
If it’s a lot of photos related to Gerald Ensley you want, head over to Google, where privacy is not Job One.
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