Indian court grants ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ in a rare case

In the Internet age when the information is at a step of a click, it’s difficult to be hidden but in a rare case to protect the dignity of a woman, the Karnataka High court made a landmark judgment and accepted the a woman’s plea for ‘Right to be Forgotten’ as she did not want her name to appear on search engines in association with digital records of the High Court of a previous case.

The High Court directed its Registry that no internet search in the public domain would reflect the name of the woman since it was her ‘right to be forgotten’.

The “right to be forgotten” or “the right to be erased” allows an individual to request for removal of his/her personal information/data online. This right originated from the French jurisprudence which was known as ‘right to oblivion’ or Droit à l’oubli. The rationale behind it was to allow offenders who had served their sentence to object to the publication of information regarding their crime and conviction in order to ease their process of social integration. It was along these lines that the European Union Data Protection Directive, 1995 acknowledged the right to be forgotten, wherein it was stipulated that the member states should give people a right to obtain from the ‘controller’ the rectification, erasure or blocking of data relating to them, the processing of which did not comply with the provisions of the Directive.

Our Constitution guarantees important fundamental rights, such as the right to equality, freedom among others. Apart from these, some Western countries have embraced several more, and ‘Right to be Forgotten’ is one such which is in trend these days.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ has been in practice in the European Union and Argentina since 2006.

Justice Anand Bypareddy, while passing an order in a writ petition, directed its Registry to make sure that an internet search made in the public domain would not reflect the woman’s name in a previous criminal order passed by the same High Court.

The woman’s father had approached the High court seeking directions to mask the woman’s name in an earlier order passed by the High Court. The petitioner had stated that his daughter feared grave repercussions if her name was associated with her earlier case and it would affect her marriage and reputation and thus requested the removal of his daughter’s name in the digital records maintained by the High Court and that it should not be visible in any of the internet search engines, including Google and others.

The court accepted the plea, however, made it clear that as far as a certified copy of the order is applied for, the name of the petitioner’s daughter would certainly be reflected in the copy of the order.

She had previously filed a case against a man who she said she was not married to, and so the marriage certificate should be annulled. However, the parties arrived a compromise, and she withdrew her complaint. So the High Court quashed the case against the man.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ has raised several questions around free speech and privacy and this decision could be the beginning of further debates on how the right can be exercised in India.

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