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News Navigator: What is the 'right to be forgotten?'

The Supreme Court has ruled against a man who sought to have his arrest history removed from internet search results, or the "right to be forgotten." The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about this right.

    Question: What is the "right to be forgotten?"

    Answer: With the growth of the internet, information that attracts people's interest now quickly spreads through tools such as search engines. Information that would previously require looking through old copies of newspapers to find is now quickly accessible through a computer or smartphone. This also means that information about oneself is hard to get rid of once it has gotten out on the internet. This has led to a large demand for removing information about oneself from public view. The European Union (EU) has recognized this as a legal right, the right to be forgotten.

    In 2014, the Court of Justice of the EU made headlines when it ruled that Google had to erase search results related to the debts of a Spanish man.

    Q: Does that mean that even true information of public value must be deleted after some time has passed?

    A: If, for example, a person was arrested for theft and a news article came out about it, after that person reformed themselves and rejoined society, if the article was rediscovered it could affect the person's new life. It is possible that the public value of information about a crime could diminish or disappear over time.

    Q: How is Japan handling the issue?

    A: In Japanese courts, decisions on this have been made within the framework of privacy and personal rights, weighing the public value of news reports on arrests or criminal convictions plus the severity of the crimes, against the individual rights of those who have returned to society after serving their sentences. The Supreme Court ruling largely followed this precedent and did not adopt the idea of the right to be forgotten.

    However, awareness of the right to be forgotten is rising. In the future, courts -- which have built up a record of rulings on news reporting and privacy violations -- will have to face this new demand, weigh the right to know and freedom of speech and the press against it, and make practical rulings. (By Yosuke Omura, Digital News Center)

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