Should Canadians also have the option to ask Google to erase damaging personal information?

Jun 2, 2014 at 7:03 p.m. ET

After the EU court ruled in favour of granting its citizens a right to tinker with their online personal information, it makes us wonder if we should have the same right in Canada.

Well, Google Inc. is sure keeping busy! The search provider is currently swamped with requests — receiving 12,000 in the first day — of online information removal after the European Union Court of Justice ruled that citizens' rights could be harmed by information on the internet.

Google has set up an online removal application allowing EU citizens to submit a request of deletion of certain personal information or gunk floating around on the web. The "right to be forgotten," as it has been labelled, was officially launched on Friday and may leave personal searches looking quite intentionally scarce for EU citizens.

Of course, this is already raising questions of censorship and unleashing a whole universe of ethical inquisitions, especially considering that a large portion of applicants is attempting to erase traces of criminal records that could be viewed by potential employers and social contacts. Spooky, no?

So, is this something we should get going in Canada? Is it censorship? Is it worth it? Should this even be happening? Let's pick this apart, shall we?

So what's the big deal?

Obviously the first question that comes to mind is what in the world are people deleting? Well, a few things, actually. Individuals could request to delete any trace of a criminal record online (think newspaper articles about rapists, child pornographers, disgraced politicians, etc.), or sketchy reputation claims (very useful for an experimental medical practitioner) or personal failures (bankrupt businesses). EU citizens can also just clean up their searches to avoid any embarrassing photos of those drunken nights in college from popping up. The spectrum of erasable data is quite broad.

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The bad and the ugly

One of the current concerns regarding this court ruling is censorship. Is the information tumbling around on the web public, or does it remain private despite being out of the subject's control? Subsequently, does the subject of the information have a right to request its deletion? Can narrowing access to possibly important data, like a past criminal record, pose a risk to the public?

Another concern raised is that this might spur some less-developed countries to push for wider internet censorship within their states. Hey, if the European Union is doing it, why not? Which could pose further risks to progress or even stunt development of human freedoms.

Of course, presently the information erasure is limited to Google only; in other words, the information remains accessible through other search engines. This means that for an EU citizen to be fully "forgotten," this court ruling needs to be extended to the entire world. Any potential U.S. employer can still view all that saucy personal information an EU citizen was trying to sweep under the carpet.

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Should we?

So, forgetting about the folks who have to sift through these applications and clean up Google, should we implement the same censorship in Canada? On the one hand, it is a person's right to control their personal information. Yet this kind of permit could also potentially hide information important for public safety and awareness, which — it could be argued — the public also has a right to have. What do you think? Should we get this ball rolling in the Great White North too?

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