Information Not Found: The “Right to Be Forgotten” as an Emerging Threat to Media Freedom in the Digital Age

As expansive as the amount of information available via the internet is, sometimes the most valuable information is what cannot be found. This is increasingly the case as some governments and private citizens are trying to limit what can be easily discovered online, reflected in a growing body of so-called Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF) legislation. The RTBF refers to the removal of content from either search engine indexes or even the entire internet so that it is not readily accessible to end users.

While the concept emerged out of a European legal tradition that favors the privacy of non-public individuals, in practice it has led to the censorship of information relevant to the public interest. It has endangered press freedom by leading to the removal of news articles, and it has hindered media development by erasing content from the digital public record.

A new CIMA report by Michael Oghia examines how RTBF legislation is rapidly developing at a time when freedom of expression online is increasingly circumscribed, and governments are finding new ways to stifle dissent and press freedom. He argues that new rationales for censorship have developed in the digital age, and the RTBF is one of the principal legal tools being adopted by those who seek to control information, thereby posing a significant challenge to media freedom.