Week in Review: August 5, 2015

by Jenny Shore

France: Google Turns Down Right to Be Forgotten Demand

French data protection authority Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) has demanded that Google remove search results in connection with the so-called right to be forgotten not only from French (google.fr) but also global (e.g., Google.com) domains. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the CNIL, warned that Google could face fines if it does not comply; Google has refused this demand, however. Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, objected in a blog post to CNIL’s demand, noting that the implications of a global application of the right to be forgotten removals might put us “in a race to the bottom. In the end, the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.” He also noted in that blog post that 97% of French users use the Google.fr domain, thereby making it sufficient for the right to be forgotten. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School noted in the New York Times that this global implementation of the right to be forgotten would allow France to provide search results in the US that are inconsistent with US law: “France is asking for Google to do something here in the U.S. that if the U.S. government asked for, it would be against the First Amendment.”

Germany: Facebook Asked to Allow Pseudonymous Accounts

France is not the only European nation whose data protection authority is making demands of a major US technology company this week. Germany’s data protection authority has demanded that Facebook allow pseudonymous accounts. This demand was prompted by the case of a woman who had avoided using her real name on Facebook to avoid being contacted for business requests. Facebook blocked her account, requested to see her ID, and took it upon itself to change her Facebook name to her real name without permission. On its website, Facebook outlines the conditions for a user’s name, including that it “should be your authentic identity” and “pretending to be anything or anyone isn’t allowed.”

India: Government Blocks Pornography Websites

The government of India blocked over 850 pornographic websites, which contain content that they claim “violates morality and decency,” in the words of Ram Sewak Sharma of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Supporters of the move contend that it is an easier way to crack down on the pornography industry than preventing the production of such content. However, critics contend that this block violates Internet freedom; specifically, an article in the Firstpost.com news website noted that this policy took a “ban first, debate later” approach. At the time of the ban, a spokesperson from the department of telecommunications indicated that it would be temporary, until a longer term fix could be arranged. However, by Tuesday, the ban was rescinded in connection with public criticism, including that non-pornographic websites were found to be blocked.

Malaysia: Amendment to Internet Regulation Law

The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which regulates the Internet in Malaysia, may undergo an amendment aimed at “[protecting] Malaysians from libel and slander, plus character assassination.” While critics are concerned the bill could stifle freedom of expression, new minister of communications Datuk Seri Mohd Salleh Said Keruak wrote in a blog post that “We (will) review the CMA so that we can strike a balance between not stifling free speech and continuing with freedom of information while at the same time protecting Malaysians from criminal acts that appear to have become the trend of late.”

The Internet Monitor Week in Review is a weekly round-up of news about Internet content controls and online activity around the world.