THE foundation which operates Wikipedia has issued new criticism of the “right to be forgotten” ruling, calling it “unforgivable censorship”.
Speaking at the announcement of the Wikimedia Foundation’s first-ever transparency report in London, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the public had the “right to remember”.
The Foundation’s chief executive Lila Tretikov called the ruling from the European Court of Justice “a direct threat to our mission”.
The encyclopaedia is free to view and edit by anyone, and has the aim of building the “sum of all human knowledge”.
Following a court case in Spain between a man and Google over web links to a newspaper article about a real estate auction connected to his debt, the European Court of Justice implemented the “right to be forgotten”. Since then Google has created an online form where individuals can ask for links in search results related to them to be removed from view.
Ms Tretikov said: “Our Transparency Report explains how we fight and defend against that. We oppose censorship. Recently, however, a new threat has emerged - the removal of links from search results following the recent judgment from the European Court of Justice regarding the right to be forgotten.
“This right to be forgotten is the idea that people may demand to have truthful information about themselves selectively removed from the published public record or at least make it more difficult to find. This ruling, unfortunately, has compromised the public’s right to information and freedom of expression.”
Google has already received more than 91,000 removal requests since the ruling came into effect, and as of July 18, 50 of those requests related to Wikipedia content.
“Links, including those to Wikipedia itself may now be quietly, silently deleted with no transparency, no notice, no judicial review and no appeals process. Some search engines are giving proper notice and some are not. We find this type of compelled censorship unacceptable. But we find the lack of disclosure unforgivable,” said Ms Tretikov.
In a further statement posted to the Wikimedia Foundation website, Ms Tretikov said the result is an internet “riddled with Orwell’s memory holes - places where inconvenient information simply disappears”.
As part of the Foundation’s bid for greater transparency, it has issued its first transparency report, detailing the number of requests it has received from governments, individuals and organisations to disclose information about users or to change content on web pages.
According to the report, the Foundation received 56 requests for user data in the last two years. In 14% of those cases, information was produced. The report also revealed that 304 requests were made for content to be either altered or removed, with the Foundation confirming that none of those requests were granted.
Mr Wales, who is a supporter of world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s calls for a “bill of rights” to be introduced to protect web users and their privacy, said: “Wikipedia is founded on the belief that everyone, everywhere should be able to have access to the sum of all knowledge. However, this is only possible if people can contribute and participant in those projects without reservation.
“This means the right to create content, including controversial content, should be protected. People should feel secure that their curiosity and contributions are not subject to unreasonable Government requests for their account histories. They should feel confident that the knowledge they are receiving is complete, truthful and uncensored.”
Ms Tretikov added: “It (the report) specifically illustrates our commitment to protect the privacy of our users, and to preserve the content that the Wikimedia community has created and edited.”
Wikimedia also announced it would publish all notices from Google regarding the removal of links to content.
Geoff Brigham, general counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation, said: “That (the report) was what this press conference was originally only going to be about. But in the last week, Wikipedia has received five notices from Google indicating that content on Wikipedia - articles, or other content - are scheduled to be deleted from search results in Europe. We intend to post the notices about indefinite removals of links to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia sites from search results.”
Mr Brigham confirmed that these notices included a case involving one individual who has served time in prison, and another regarding an Italian criminal gang.
“The decision is going to have direct and critical repercussions for Wikipedia. Without safeguards, this decision hurts free information, and let me tell you why: the decisions are made without any real proof, there’s no judicial review, no public explanation, there’s no appeals process,” he said.
“Yet the decision allows censorship of truthful information when one would expect such judicial safeguards. If I may so say, in allowing this to happen, the European Court of Justice has basically abandoned its responsibility to protect the right to freedom of expression and access to truthful information. Two extremely important rights for democratic society.
“In our opinion, we are on a path to secret, online sanitation of truthful information. No matter how well it may be intended, it is compromising human rights, the freedom of expression and access to information, and we cannot forget that. So we have to expose it and we have to reject this kind of censorship.”