Should a lawyer be able to force Google to expunge “bad” links that adversely impact the lawyer’s reputation and thus, the lawyer’s Civil, Economic, Social and Cultural rights?
A recent NYT article “European Court lets Users Erase Records on the Web” by David Streitfeld raises some interesting questions about free speech, free flow of information and a lawyer’s reputation in the digital age. It is not strictly speaking about divorce attorneys but I thought I would tailor it to this group just for kicks. You see, it is my opinion that divorce attorneys are particularly vulnerable to online attacks than perhaps all other lawyers combined. They say that the pen is mightier than the sword but I daresay it is the mens rea of angry, bitter, disgruntled and vengeful web trollers with an ax to grind against a divorce lawyer that is mightiest of all. One misstep with the wrong person is all it takes to completely destroy a lawyer’s online reputation. The bullies know this. And they also know that they have Google’s algorithms on their side. Whether warranted or not, truth or fiction, the negative oft times defamatory statements always seem to get top search engine page one status on Google. And there it will stay ad infinitum unless the lawyer spends an exorbitant amount of time and money defending his or her reputation.
In America, this is called Freedom of Speech. But the European High court has made it clear that, at least in some instances in Europe this is called an invasion of privacy and a disregard for human dignity which is intolerable under European constitutions and international conventions to which the EU is a signatory. And the court has made it clear that someone will be held accountable.
Mr. Steitfeld wrote:
The Court said search engines are not simply dub pipes but play an active role as “data controllers” and must be held accountable for the links they provide. Search engines could be compelled to remove links to certain pages, even the publication in itself on these pages is lawful. The court also said that a search engine as a general rule should place the right to privacy over the right of the public to find information.
What I have come to believe, with all due respect, is that Google is still in denial about how powerful it is. Google is slightly oblivious. You have these two geniuses working on their PhD and they stumble on this idea and they run with it and people took it seriously and they are still giggling when they get together. They just cannot believe this has happened. They cannot wrap their heads around any of this, of the reality of how powerful Google is. The fact of the matter is that Google has the power in its cute, little, algorithms to literally destroy people’s lives, reputation and livelihood – whether intentionally or not whether directly or indirectly. This is serious. This amount of power cannot be left unfettered. Modernity would like to wipe out our right to privacy and call it “freedom of speech.” But no. Privacy is necessary for dignity. In displacing our right to privacy all in the name of freedom of information and social networks and Google, we wipe out our human dignity. Human dignity matters. Reputation matters. Truth matters. These must be protected by law from those who are willing to”abuse” their so called right to free speech and with the help of Google’s cutie algorithms, victimize others.
The Internet cannot, should not and must not be a place of lawlessness. People with bad intentions cannot be assured of their ability to take to the Internet – with the unwitting help of Google – to reap harm, misery, suffering and pain to others and destroy lives and careers. In no civilized and democratic society – local or international – must this be tolerated.
Bravo for the European High Court!