Federal court rules that there’s no freedom from embarrassment on the Internet

29 03 2013

Frequently, I get requests from people who want information deleted from the Utah’s Right to Know website.

Sometimes, it’s someone who has had their criminal record formally expunged and wants it taken down before we do our next update. And, once I see proof that the expungement actually took place, I am more than happy to remove the data.

But there are others who want their convictions and divorces removed for no other reason than they don’t want that fact showing up when someone does a Google search on their names.

One gentleman even went as far as claiming that Utah’s Right to Know cost him a job opportunity because the prospective employer found his burglary conviction online.

My response to him, as to all others who make these requests, is that unless the record is formally expunged, it will remain on our site.

It’s that notion of avoiding embarrassment that drove Rep. Paul Ray’s HB408, which requires people seeking jailhouse mug shots to swear that they will not publish the pictures in publications that charge to remove them. As of Friday, Ray’s bill was still waiting for Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature.

While the European Union is exploring the possibility of establishing a “right to be forgotten”, a federal appeals court has ruled that American Internet search engines have no duty to remove information someone may deem unflattering.

In Neiman v. VersusLaw Inc., the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled against a man who insisted that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft had to stop linking to a lawsuit he  filed against a previous employer. The man argued that the links were scaring off future employers who might consider him too litigious to hire.

“The First Amendment privileges the publication of facts contained in lawfully obtained judicial records, even if reasonable people would want them concealed,” the court ruled.

The case validates the advice given by many journalists to their children: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Or in a Google search for that matter.

H/T to Frank LoMonte at the Student Press Law Center for pointing out this decision.




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