Right to be forgotten is the right to have removed personal information from the internet. And to prevent the access of such data through any search engine or database. It depends on the relevance of the subject matter and its usefulness in the public domain. If a personal data exists on the internet but is of no use any further and does not affect public interest, then it can be removed.
First such use of right to be forgotten was seen in 2014 in Spain. Where a man had asked the details of his bankruptcy to be removed from Google. Those details which were published in the newspaper previously, were of no relevance later. The European Court later ruled in favour of right to be forgotten and this was to be applicable in the jurisdiction of EU.
India does not yet have a special or specific law with respect to right to be forgotten. But it can be related to right to privacy protected under article 21 of the constitution. Such an interpretation was laid down in the K.S. Puttaswamy* judgement in 2017, which confirmed right to privacy to be covered under the spirit of article 21 which protects right to life and personal liberty.
A judgment authored by the Hon’ble Mr Justice SK Kaul talks about the “right of an individual to exercise control over his personal data and to be able to control his/her own life would also encompass his right to control his existence on the internet.” The judgement further talks that a criminal cannot obliterate his past but precaution can be practised to change big and small mistakes as per prudence.
Even before the Puttaswamy judgement, few cases have touched the topic of similar matters. Like the case of R. Rajagopal Vs state of Tamil Nadu of 1994** which protected right to privacy of prisoners for the first time. Such a judgment in the 1990s can now be understood to be a big step towards privacy. In Sri Vasunathan v The Registrar General (2017)***, the Karnataka High Court recognized right to be forgotten principle in sensitive cases involving women in general as well highly sensitive cases.
India has now stepped up to implement the right to be forgotten principle via the Indian personal data protection bill 2019. The bill will for the first time addressed the right to be forgotten principle where a person can erase details on internet if it is no longer needed for its original processing purpose. Under the European Union laws the right to be forgotten principle is more wide.
A budding criticism of the personal data protection bill is that any third-party can go and seek a review of the order regarding data protection. Such loopholes must be overcome diligently. The right to be forgotten must not affect the public’s right to access and right to information. In the garb of privacy, there should not be erasure of important data. This would be a complete misuse of right to privacy.
Such an important principle needs to be handled carefully. This principle has many advantages like one can get removed libel, slanderous comments put by a third party on the internet. Personal and financial information not pertinent to any case can be removed. This right will clash with the right to information in public interest.
Implementation of the personal data protection bill will help citizens to file a complaint to the adjugating officer instead of going through the cumbersome process of filing a case. Preceeding cases and international examples must be considered while framing laws for the principle of right to be forgotten.