BY the time you read this, it’ll be history. Or, as we were fond of saying in the good, old days of hot metal and cold print, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish-and-chips’ wrapping.
Sardony aside, this piece is now on the internet, so in years to come perhaps some student wordsmith will read it and think, ‘Wow, that bloke could write’ or conversely, ‘What a load of b******t’.
In a free society, everyone has the privilege of a view, so those of us who live by the pen can also perish by it in the court of public opinion or, indeed, in a court of law if we cross the threshold of libel.
Which is why – whether you’re bewitched, bothered or bewildered by my utterings – you can be guaranteed that whatever I air here is based on unsullied truths, often treble checked for veracity, even if my conclusions don’t necessarily chime with yours.
As a adolescent newcomer to this surreal trade, one of the first tenets I learned was that laid down by The Guardian’s legendary editor, C.P. Scott, who, in 1921, wrote, ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred.’
So the gleaning of accurate info is vital to my cause, my job and my service to you, the reader.
Last week, however, the ground rules shifted dramatically and I can no longer vouch that what I state is the whole truth, but something short of it.
Because that august body, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), have slammed the door on my – and your – legitimate liberty to enquire.
They did so by ordering Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine and the planet’s most valuable brand, to bow to an individual’s demand to hide embarrassing details of their past online, even if such data remains elsewhere in cyberspace and others, beyond the remit of Europe, continue to access it.
In principal, it enshrines in law the Brussels doctrine of the ‘right to be forgotten’, which says people should not be victims of their historic mistakes or misdemeanours.
So, any citizen of the European Union will be able to require Google – and other search engines – to block any reference to their life they personally deem unpalatable…even if, in the ECJ’s own contradictory admission, it was ‘true, accurate and lawfully published’.
The bizarre ruling was handed down after 59-year-old Spaniard, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, complained that an auction notice in a Barcelona newspaper, regarding his home being repossessed to repay social security debts in 1998, still appeared in Google searches, thus infringing his privacy.
Senor Gonzalez said the matter had been ‘fully resolved for a number of years’. And the ECJ’s 13-strong panel of judges agreed that, under a 1995 EU data protection directive, his rights ‘override, as a general rule, the interest of internet users’.
The test case is relatively small beer – not worth even a can of San Miguel lager in the great scheme of things (except, of course, to Senor Gonzalez, whose action won him a tsunami of unwanted headlines that now litter the Web).
However, its ramifications are scary, not say a full frontal attack on liberty.
EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, believes it’s ‘a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans’.
In contrast, Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch, points out, ‘The principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history.’
Her fears are understandably echoed by Google, who report over a thousand people have already demanded links to unfavourable stories about them be blocked.
They include an unnamed British ex-MP, fuming that his expenses claims paint a less than glowing portrait of his integrity, a tax scammer, 20 convicted criminals – including a paedophile – plus a surgeon, whose handiwork received negative reviews from patients.
The US-based search engine now faces a logistical nightmare in how to deal with the predicted flood of demands and says it will need a multi-lingual ‘army of removal experts’ in each of the 28 EU member states.
Even that, though, may prove a mission impossible, because the idiot ECJ’s criteria of what is ‘no longer relevant’ to the public interest is hopelessly blurred, since it fails to define what is or isn’t ‘historic’.
Nonetheless, by its clunking fist, the court has granted itself editorial powers it has no right to wield, given the internet is a global resource and this ruling infringes the American constitution’s First Amendment, the freedom of expression.
And, to further complicate the farce, the ECJ decision doesn’t apply to Facebook comments or Twitter posts.
So, in essences, the learned jurists have not only made an ass of the law – and themselves – but cooked up a crooks’ charter, whereby every miscreant from the west of Ireland to the Black Sea is empowered to act as their own cyberspace censor.
Conmen, rogue traders and motley scumbags must think the verdict is better than a ‘get out of jail free’ card, because they can rewrite their histories with complete alacrity.
Ditto the rich and famous, who want their private lives – however seedy and corrupt – out of the public eye. Some already do this by employing expensive PR firms to sanitise their Wikipedia references to appear like insipid autobiographies.
But anyone, other than the certifiably stupid, knows the internet is a mixed bag of knowledge and nonsense, parts of it vital to the passage of information, science and learning; other, darker zones inflammatory, distorted and gratuitously pornographic
However, attempts to police it in the heavy-handed way the ECJ have done are nothing short of Stalinesque – or Maoesque, in the case of China, where what Beijing users can browse is a fraction of that available to New Yorkers and, until last week, Europeans.
Meanwhile, by erring on the side of those who want their pasts hidden, the ECJ judges have added yet another layer of control and restraint to liberty that’s become synonymous with the increasingly autocratic European Union.