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Russian Right to Be Forgotten is Really Censorship

President Vladimir Putin signed the parliament-approved Right to be Forgotten bill barely a month after it was introduced. The law is deserving of much more criticism than its EU counterpart, allowing for much more expansive powers to demand the removal of content links from search engine results. The law is set to take effect on January 1st next year.

A Loophole for Censorship Disguised as Privacy Protection

The European Union began the move for the right to be forgotten in the interest of providing people with a means of requesting the removal of content that is deemed by the court to generate a negative bias against them. The ruling was approved last year by the European Court of Justice, and floods of requests were soon received by Google from almost 300,000 EU Internet users. To date, the search engine has processed the removal more than a million links to various content from its results pages. Although the ECJ passed the law to protect European citizens from prejudice, the law was criticized since it would give others a chance to abuse it for their own gain. Any request that is accepted for reasons other than unfair content is after all contrary to freedom of speech and expression and therefore a form of censorship.

Blatant Censorship Couched in a Desire for Truth

Russia has followed in the footsteps of the EU, having drafted and passed its own ruling on the right to be forgotten in the space of just a month. The bill was introduced in mid-June of this year and was signed and voted in by the majority of parliament by the time July came around. Despite the expansive nature of the powers granted by the bill, there were no apparent obstacles and the president signed it into law about a week later.

The Russian Right to be Forgotten says that any person can request the removal of search engine results that link to information that is out of date, not relevant or not reliable. These definitions are very broad and therefore subject to much interpretation. It can target any content that is formed out of opinions, for instance. Critics feel that such a law is not only vulnerable to abuse by those who wish to have certain content censored, but is a deliberate act to facilitate censorship in the country. This law, in contrast to that of the EU, allows Russian public officials to submit removal requests. This means that when the New Year comes, they can begin stripping the Internet of any content that they deem undesirable. It is not difficult to justify almost anything as unreliable, irrelevant, or old news.

President Putin has been harshly criticized all throughout his term, but not much more than the other executive heads of state all over the world. It is common for the masses to express their disapproval, but it seems that Putin is one of the more particularly sensitive leaders who cannot bear to have his offenses ridiculed around the globe. This has led to a widespread belief that the president had a vested interest in getting Russia’s version of the right to be forgotten rubber stamped and out the door before anything could weaken its momentum.

On the positive side we say the same as we did about the EU’s ruling. It’s great that people who have moved on from past mistakes can leave them there and look forward to a brighter future. It is just that people who have been wrongly accused and unfairly judged can eliminate results that would encourage prejudice against them. But to have a law that so easily allows citizens and especially public figures to hide certain information about themselves is a very dangerous thing. People need to have access to important information that they will use on a daily basis to make informed decisions, again, especially about those in power. In a country where censorship is approved of by the leadership, it is a tool that will be used to carry out government propaganda. And with Russia’s obvious fear and hatred for the right to freedom of expression, it will be wielded by those in power more often and more passionately than can be healthy for any country.

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