Even the right to be forgotten has its limitations

The removal of our information from the web requires no public interest to keep it available. So says the Supreme Court by Andrea Monti – Initially published in Italian by Wired.it

The order 13524/21 issued on May 18 by the I civil section of the Italian Suprem Court reaffirms a principle, known but still not fully understood by most, according to which the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ cannot be used, like bleach, to delete at our will those contents available online that we do not like or that ‘damage our reputation’.

In order to make our information disappear from the web, in fact, there must be no public interest reasons to keep it available. Consequently, whenever information is disseminated online because of a law or a fundamental right, it cannot be removed from the source or de-indexed by search engines.

The case that gave rise to the decision was brought by a debtor who wanted information about a temporary non-payment of a mortgage to be permanently removed from public records. The Court rejected the request, noting that the permanence of this information was necessary under Article 2818 of the Civil Code in the more general context of certainty of trade and economic activities. In other words: making information on debtors public serves to avoid ‘nasty surprises’.

The ‘media’ effects

The Court’s decision concerned a complex issue relating to procedures for the cancellation of mortgages (the legal ‘blocking’ of a defaulting creditor’s assets by creditors), but the Court’s reasoning is valid and, above all, for the media and information sectors.

First of all (but the Court did not pronounce itself on this), it must be said that ‘personal data’ is different from ‘news’. If one can conceive of the right to delete a specific piece of data, it is in no way acceptable that news is deleted as such. It is so true that the Data Protection Regulation itself also includes the right to information and freedom of expression, among the exceptions to the exercise of the right to erasure.

Therefore, the Court correctly limited the possibility of exercising the right to obtain the erasure of data. It pointed out that the right to erasure gives way when faced with the rule of law or a fundamental right.

Of course, as far as the media are concerned, this does not mean that they are free to do what they want because great freedom bears great responsibility. If, in fact, and also in the light of this ordinance, newspapers are not obliged to delete entire news items, on the other hand, they have a legal duty, if they make them available online, to keep them updated.

It means, as is already the case in Anglo-Saxon journalism, following the events that have been covered and updating the article that recounts them as there are developments. Alternatively, to point out that the ‘piece’ is outdated and may contain outdated information.

Therefore, those who complain (in good faith) about the presence of information about themselves in the media should ask for it to be updated rather than deleted.

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