Sex offenders are often discriminated against when they make a right to be forgotten request
The Right to be forgotten, also known as the Right to Erasure, gives individuals the right to request that information and data published about them be removed from the internet. People who have committed a sex offence, will often find it more difficult to convince Google to have articles relating to their previous conviction removed from Google searches
There are articles written about my past conviction online – what do I do? You have been trying and trying to put your past behind you where you once made a mistake to which you were convicted of committing an offence.
Having been convicted of a sex offence you will feel highly embarrassed. Some sex offences are particularly minor and if you are like the majority of people who commit them and have not reoffended, you find that it is very hard to move on. Despite this, several years have passed and you have managed to rebuild your reputation and try to continue living a normal life.
However, the knowledge that there are existing articles about you which have been published online for all the world to see, are becoming a stress as you have had no success in their removal.
You now feel helpless and although you are in despair, you feel that perhaps it is time to give up and accept the consequences that the existing content online may attribute to the future of your life. However, the law provides a way out, and where possible, will allow you to live an easy life, by ordering the removal of any published content from the internet.
It is possible to have a voyeurism conviction removed from Google searches, as well as other convictions which relate to sexual offences. By way of example, Reece visited our office last month with a plea that we help him with the removal of content regarding a past conviction several years ago. At the time he came to see us, he explained that he had been convicted for voyeurism 10 years ago and by default he was sentenced to a supervision and community order for 3 years and placed on the sex offenders register for 5 years.
The media had published various articles online which concerned Reece and his case, highlighting what he did, why he was convicted and made specific references to certain descriptive elements (he was a rock climbing instructor at the time) to which he was convicted. Thus, should someone decide to type his full name into google, they would be presented with all the relevant articles which would expose his past conviction to which at this point the information is no longer relevant.
Reece now has a family and is also trying to explore future job opportunities to which the existence of these articles has previously discouraged potential employers from taking him on. After all, where someone is known on the internet as being a voyeuristic – can a person be blamed for not wanting to employ him where information about a past conviction is so easily accessible?
The truth is that there is hardly ever public interest in Google showing articles about sex offenders and their previous convictions in relation to search for individual’s names.
The reason for this is that public interest is already served by the offender having to be placed on the Sex Offenders Register where they can be supervised by the police. If court can decide the duration for the requirement to be placed on the Sex Offender Register in accordance with any public interest. Where articles which are published online are easily accessible to the public by way of online research, one may come to the conclusion that this information, since it exists on the internet, the content may be valid and in the public interest.
However, the law is there to ascertain the significance of the articles, to determine whether there is any benefit in keeping the articles online or whether an individual is entitled to the right to be forgotten. A solicitor would therefore strive to have any articles removed regarding their client if there is no plausible reason for them to remain published. In our case with Reece, where the articles were now existing based on a spent conviction, it was our job to help him with his plea to have the articles removed.
A conviction is a personal matter, and the last thing you want is to have to face the repercussions of a conviction which is now spent, thus no longer relevant in most cases to exist on the internet. It is important for us to be able to provide our clients with the relief they deserve to allow them to move forward with their lives without the burden of their past on their minds due to the publication of an article which all of the world can see. People change and the law acknowledges this through the Right to Be Forgotten.
The case of Reece is an example of how the advice of a solicitor helped remove articles about previous convictions of sex offences from the internet. We advised Reece of his options to achieve his goal of clearing his name. The first option that we presented was that we could apply to Google directly under the Right to Be Forgotten, in that google was processing information that was out of date and no longer relevant to Reece and the application to which he lives his life.
For example – he is no longer a rock-climbing instructor, thus no longer in a position to be found guilty for voyeurism in the same context as he had been convicted 10 years ago. We also explained that in this option it would be important to stress the breach of Reece’s right to privacy and the fact that he had not consented to the publishing of these articles.
If Google were to refuse, the Information Commissioner’s Office, who are responsible for Data Protection in the UK upon application have the power to order Google to de-list and remove searches under Reece’s name. Another route could be to serve a GDPR notice on Google, requesting that Google delist the existing links associated with Reece’s name, and the next stage would be to file a claim against Google in the High Court. Lastly, we advised Reece that another option to resolve his problem could be to service a GDPR notice on the publishers of the article.
Although all 3 of the options available to Reece could have been pursued at the same time, if he were to pick just one route, we advised him that it should be to make the application under the Right to Be Forgotten. Upon taking our advice we were able to successfully persuade Google to block the details of his past conviction to enable him to move on with his private and family life.
Each time you try to have a sex offence conviction delisted from Google searches you have to go through a hurdle which individuals with other convictions don’t have to overcome. The specific difficulties in delisting articles relating to individuals who had been convicted of sex offences relate to the resentment most people feel about sex offenders. Sex offences vary from very minor to very serious.
The right to be forgotten does not exclude any type of offence so the difficulties that you will often face with Google is that the content moderator who has to make the decision whether to delist the article resents you for having committed a sex related offence. This is why it is partially important to have your right to be forgotten request, in case of this nature, to be drafted and submitted by a lawyer who will often pre-empt some of the unfair objections