Delhi High Court’s order upholds ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Synopsis:

Recently, in response to a petition, the Delhi High Court ordered the removal of easy access from one of its own judgments. Delhi HC upheld the petitioner’s right to be forgotten to prevent post-acquittal disgrace faced by him. However, some experts have criticized the order, stating that minor modifications would have yielded better results than complete revocation.

Background:
  • The Delhi HC gave temporary relief to a petitioner. He sought the removal of the judgment from leading database platforms and search engines after his acquittal.
    • The court asked search engines to remove this order from search results. It ordered the database platform to block the judgment from being accessed by search engines.
  • It recognized that the petitioner may have a right to be forgotten, which must be balanced with the right of the public to access courts of record.
  • This is the first instance of a court ordering the removal of access to its complete final judgment from certain spaces.
About Right to be forgotten:
  • It is a right to remove private information about a person from public access.
  • It allows an individual to determine the development of their life in an autonomous way and prevents perpetual stigmatization for past conduct.
  • In 2017, the Supreme Court held it to be a part of the Right to privacy. The court deduced that a lot of personal information may serve no “legitimate interest”, was unnecessary or irrelevant and hence can be taken down.
Issues associated with Right to Forgotten:
  • First, there are no concrete provisions or guidelines to determine the ambit of ‘Right to be forgotten’. It is dependent on the discretion of individual courts and the status of individuals. For instance, a public figure may find greater difficulties in exercising this right.
  • Second, there is no clarity on information uploaded by 3rd parties like a journalist or news agency. There is a broad consensus that one should be empowered to remove the information upheld by him/her over the internet.
    • However, removing 3rd party information may muzzle fair criticism of government policies and the media’s right to report.
    • U.S Supreme court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), ruled that public interest reporting may continue without fear as long as it did not intentionally or recklessly make outright false statements.
  • Third, the removal of complete judgments may not allow public scrutiny of judicial performance to ascertain the fairness and objectivity of the administration of justice.
  • Fourth, the removal sometimes creates a Streisand effect. It is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information.

Way Forward:

  • As per some experts, narrow tailoring of the judgment would have been more beneficial than forbidding access to its complete judgment.
  • The court could have ordered that the name and personal details of the petitioner be censored while maintaining public access to the judgment itself. 

Thus, the right to be forgotten must be studied along with the concepts of fair criticism and accountability.

Source: Click Here 

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