Removal of links and the death of history on the internet

Convicted killer Clifford Olson would probably have preferred that any account of his murder of eleven children and young people in the 1980s removed from the internet. Links such as this Wikipedia article which detail the grisly horror.

Courtesy of Gizmodo

Courtesy of Gizmodo

A B.C. technology company also wants links removed for a completely different reason. Equustek’s wants Google to remove links to a competitor’s website. Equustek successfully sued that competitor for theft of their hardware design but the competitor persisted on selling it online. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Google had to comply with Equustek’s request and remove the links. Google complied reluctantly.

However, the court order lays bare a much bigger problem than murder or industrial theft –the erasure of history on the internet. At issue is whether anyone, of motives pure or corrupt, should be able to remove records of significant historical events. Katherine Maher from Wikipedia worries about the jurisdiction of any court to remove history.

“If any country can demand the worldwide removal of search results, vast sections of history, science and culture could disappear from the global Internet. This could infringe on our ability to learn about the history of Tiananmen Square, the potential medical properties of cannabis, the discoveries of Darwin, or unsavoury allegations against the U.S. president-elect (Globe and Mail, Dec 9, 2016).”

Google doesn’t think it’s fair either and has taken their case to the Supreme Court of Canada where issue is currently being deliberated.

But Google is just the messenger. They don’t make webpages, they just find them.  While I’m reluctant to defend global corporate giants, I’m on Google’s side on this one. So are lawyers Ivo Entchev and Jeremy Opoplsky. Not only has the Google been “deputized” to carry out duties of Canadian law but Google is not even incorporated in B.C.

“Google did nothing wrong, but is being forced to bear the cost and responsibility to fix the problem.” “Moreover, Google is concerned by the prospect that court orders from a single jurisdiction can require the search engine to change its worldwide results Globe and Mail Dec. 11, 2016).”

So far, the Supreme Court sees only the little picture. Dissuaded by the threat to history and Google’s argument that the court doesn’t have global jurisdictions, Justice Rosalie Abella was sympathetic to arguments from Equustek’s lawyer.

“Just looking at it from the public interest point of view and the public perception point of view, you really think the public is going to line up behind the right to distribute internationally illegal contraband?” Justice Rosalie Abella asked, “What’s the harm to Google in preventing illegal activity in its wide distributive reach (Globe and Mail, Dec. 6, 2016)?”

If I may respond, Madame Abella, the harm in preventing illegal activity through the deletion of links is that search engines are not the problem. Google is simply shining a spotlight on the grimy nooks and interesting crannies of the world; some of them are illegitimate businesses that well-intentioned Equustek would like to eliminate; others that murderers, tyrants and presidents-elect would prefer remain unseen.

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