Right to be forgotten court case
As this right to be forgotten court case shows, any professional person who had been disciplined by her regulatory body, is likely to find that a second disciplinary hearing, this time before Google, is going to be much tougher to withstand.
Google has always had authority over what should be kept on the internet, in the past and I suppose it depends what it is that you want removed.
A doctor that had been struck off the register would be something that you would want to know but this right to be forgotten case is a little different and it’s good news for medical people that are in the same situation. After all, one of the purposes of the disciplinary hearing is to identify and correct the doctor’s mistake, if one occurred, so that the doctor and her colleagues can do a better job next time. It isn’t meant to be a form of permanent punishment.
A Dutch surgeon who was formerly disciplined for her medical negligence has won a legal action to remove search results from Google about her case in a landmark right to be forgotten case.
The judge said that while the information on the website with reference to the failings of the doctor in 2014 was correct, the pejorative name of the blacklist site that her name was linked to, if you typed her name into Google, suggested she was unfit to treat people. That was not supported by the medical disciplinary panel. Her registration on the register of healthcare professionals was initially suspended by the disciplinary panel because of her postoperative care of a patient. After an appeal, this was changed to a conditional suspension under which she was allowed to continue to practise.
The ruling was groundbreaking in ensuring doctors would no longer be judged by Google on their fitness to practise. As stated, Google has always had the authority over what is published on the internet, even overriding a medical disciplinary panel, so this is great news!
The case has now been followed in other jurisdictions including in England, see for example Right to be Forgotten Doctors and Medics and Right to be Forgotten Medical Practitioners where doctors can have details of disciplinary hearings against them removed from Google searches.
Google and the Dutch data privacy watchdog initially rejected attempts to have the links removed on the basis that the doctor was still on probation and the information remained relevant.
Google also argued that people want to know if doctors had been disciplined and they have difficulty finding out the information from the register but the judge said that it was a perfectly easy system. It was heard that people had found her name on the blacklist via Google and it was being discussed on a web forum.
The ruling will ensure doctors are no longer judged by Google on whether they are fit to practise, the Dutch surgeon's lawyer, Van Lynden says. “Now they will have to bring down thousands of pages: that is what will happen, in my view. Google have decided whether to take a page down before now and why do they have that position?” he said.
However, in what is said to be the first right to be forgotten court case involving medical negligence by a doctor, the district court of Amsterdam subsequently ruled the surgeon had “an interest in not indicating that every time someone enters their full name in Google’s search engine, (almost) immediately the mention of her name appears on the ‘blacklist of doctors’, and this importance adds more weight than the public’s interest in finding this information in this way.”
Since the ruling, Van Lynden said he had sought the removal of the details of 15 doctors from the blacklist, all of which involved minor disciplinary action, but only half of which had been accepted.
“The disciplinary committee is not meant to be about punishment. It is meant to be correcting the doctor’s mistake so they can do the job next time.” Van Lynden said.
The case was concluded in July 2018 but only made public in recent weeks after a dispute over whether the court’s judgement itself should be published.
So how to remove your name from Google. You may only get one chance to get your right to be forgotten application. Google may turn down your request if it thinks it is in the public’s interest to know something about you and that decision could lock you up into a Google loop forever-more.
This cannot serve the interest of the police because it would pre-empt the final decision a professional disciplinary panel. It also mean that in addition to a disciplinary punishment. Even prior to this case, we have successfully argued in various disciplinary panels that Google shall not have a right to make the decision of the panel searchable, at least not beyond the period of time of any sanction. The current position in relation of right to be forgotten for professional people is that with the right approach, either Google will remove references to the disciplinary hearing or the disciplinary body will remove access to Google to the web page where the disciplinary hearing is published.