Reputation, career, opportunity – what happens if the ‘wrong’ stories appear when someone Googles your name? A UEA Law academic is fighting for our ‘right to be forgotten’.
Paul Bernal, a lecturer in the UEA Law School, specialises in internet law and internet privacy in particular. For a number of years he has been working on a piece of research which has now been given the label ‘the right to be forgotten’.
Essentially this refers to the idea that we should be able to stop old, irrelevant or misleading information about us appearing whenever people search for our names in internet search engines. Legally it’s a contentious area, but for some people it can be really crucial. Reputations can depend on it, jobs can be lost and worse, if the ‘wrong’ stories appear when someone ‘Googles’ us.
Paul Bernal gives an example, “This might be a story that’s embarrassing , a prank done when someone was a student for example, or something that’s directly damaging and effectively false, like a story of a conviction for a crime that was later overturned, and only the crime can be found, not the overturning. It might even be as a victim or a witness to a crime, something that really should not be the first thing to appear when you are searching for someone’s name.”
Paul’s research became real when a Spanish man sued Google, and last year finally won, in a case now known simply as ‘Google Spain’. That ruling, in May 2014, caused quite an uproar and Paul was called upon by many sections of the media, writing about it for CNN amongst others, being interviewed for the radio both in the UK and in countries as far apart as Russia, New Zealand and Canada. When the UK Culture Secretary Sajid Javid seemed to wilfully misinterpret the ruling, Paul wrote a piece about it for Comment is Free in the Guardian.
At UEA Law School we work in areas that are of current interest and in fields that matter to ordinary people, not just to lawyers.
Paul comments “It was particularly satisfying to be able to connect the research I do with current events and then to be able to bring this into my teaching too. The right to be forgotten is discussed in four different courses I teach at UEA, for undergraduates and masters students.”
My current research centres around internet related issues: privacy, surveillance, freedom of expression and other human rights. Looking at the role of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and how the law deals with our interactions with each other, with businesses and with authorities.