Euro court’s crazy Google gag is a ‘right to be rotten’, not a ‘charter to be forgotten’

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.

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must bow to EU citizens' demands to rewrite their histories

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must now bow to EU citizens’ demands to block their historic embarrassments

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.

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ's internet ban ruling is glad tiding for those who want to hide the truth

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ’s internet ban ruling does liberty no favours – but favours the notion that censorship rules in the EU

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.

 

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Why it’s odds on no-one will take the rap for the ‘Horseburger Handicap’ scandal

Pardon the pun, but there’s an unsavoury irony about the skeleton of a monarch, who offered his kingdom for a horse, turning up at a time when equines are practically leaping from supermarket shelves round the corner from the Leicester car park where he was buried.

Not that today’s steeds would have done Richard III an iota of good; certainly not unsaddled and repackaged as ‘beef’ burgers or meatballs.

However, despite my email inbox full of sicko Shergar gags, tempting though it is to indulge in gallows humour, there’s no escaping the sombre truth that we, the public, have been duped. Because, what many trusted purveyors of meat sold us was sometimes little short of minced gee-gee.

The revelations, which surfaced in Ireland a couple of months ago and have since gone viral throughout the EU, lead us to several unwholesome conclusions, principally that we can’t trust the Goliaths of the retail trade, they can’t trust their suppliers and nobody can trust politicians, empowered to police the food industry, but who can’t tell a fillet mignon from a fetlock.

Meanwhile, there’s a blame-game emerging, where everyone involved is passing the buck (again, pardon the pun) to anyone within receiving range of potential liability.

Fending off allegations his department was ‘asleep at the wheel’ (or reins?), Britain’s food minister, Owen Paterson, who prefers riding horses to eating them, blames the EU and the food industry for not doing enough random testing

Meanwhile, supermarket apologists were quick to finger a chain of enigmatic middlemen, dodgy abattoirs in Rumania and an iffy processing plant in France.

Iceland Group boss, Malcolm Walker, though, insists local authorities are the real culprits for foisting cut-price sustenance on schools, hospitals and prisons, leading me to suspect meals-on-wheels is now more akin to having a flutter on the great ‘horseburger handicap’.

The frozen foods tycoon says he wouldn’t eat economy or ‘value’ brands. But with his company registering profits of over £200M last year, Walker can afford the occasional prime cut for Sunday lunch, whereas innumerable families struggling to fill their kiddies’ bellies don’t have that luxury.

Out of necessity, they have to rely on supermarket ‘white’ or ‘own-label’ products. Nonetheless, they don’t deserve to be deceived – even unwittingly – by companies raking in fortunes, who can’t be bothered to find out what really lurks within the contents on their own shelves.

This brouhaha, however, isn’t about horses per se, although it appears a ready-meal lasagne or ‘spag bol’ is just as likely to have been sired by Hi-Ho-Silver as an Aberdeen Angus. So heaven only knows how many Little Bo-Peeps go into a shepherd’s pie.

No, it’s about labelling. Because, unlike a certain brand of wood preservative – which brags its does exactly what it says on the tin – there’s absolutely no guarantee a packet of foodstuffs in a hypermarket chiller isn’t contaminated by something that might have run at Epsom.

GEE WHIZ! How the UK's Sun newspaper saw the horsemeat scandal

GEE-GEE WHIZ! How the UK’s Sun newspaper lampooned the horsemeat scandal

Frankly, I’m gobsmacked at how circuitous, furtive and opaque our food chain actually is and how a dead horse can travel half way round Europe, passing through countless hands, before it’s magically transformed into a cow. Even Paul Daniels would be hard pressed to pull off that trick.

So what most of us would like to know is: why, with all their mega-billions, haven’t the big name brands (like Findus) and the supa-dupa markets, which have destroyed the local high street, done more in-house product testing? And why did the UK government’s Food Standards Agency dispense with the services of 600 inspectors and cede control of what we eat to Brussels, where the odd slice of horsemeat is considered yummy?

Moreover, broader questions cry out to be answered…like why are we forever at the mercy of grubby, greedy big business battalions and where are the consumer watchdogs we deserve?

All but a gilded, filthy rich few have already been scalped by the banks over sub-prime mortgages, LIBOR rate-fixing, Payment Protection Insurance mis-selling and money laundering that see Mexican drug cartel cash funnelled into the pockets of jihadi insurgents.

And that’s in tandem with hugely immoral, creative accountancy ‘schemes’ operated by multinational conglomerates (e.g. Starbucks, Google, Amazon), which have driven a horse and carriage – sorry, no pun intended – through individual nations’ tax laws.

Nor does it end there.

Britain’s NHS – the keystone of a caring, sharing, civilised society – is crumbling under a welter of inane red tape and gross mismanagement, exemplified by scandalously high mortality rates at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital.

Meanwhile, over the wider Eurozone horizon, austerity is the only game in the Club Med town, driving up consumer costs, choking growth and casting an entire generation of kids on the scrapheap of unemployment.

No wonder people of my generation, who worked hard, tried to invest sensibly in a minefield of evermore complex products, strived to educate our children and imagined we’d secured a modestly comfy retirement, feel robbed and so utterly let down.

What irks most is how too many big businesses fudge transparency to the extent we punters can only conclude boardrooms reckon a profitable end apparently justifies any devious means.

And, like the glib, fork-tongued politicos of all hues, no-one is condemned to stand accountable for their excesses and, when the excrement hits the fan, they retreat into blame-game autopilot.

It’s never us, they insist behind masks of righteous indignation cloaked in crocodile tears, as they trouser yet another bumper bonus.

And, as always, hollow promises of ‘lessons will be learned’ are parroted. Only they never are, as – like a line of empty buses, tail to tail – yet another scandal inexorably follows in the wake of a still raging one.

Which is why it’s my gut instinct the horsemeat travesty will be put out to grass and consigned to the knacker’s yard of history.

Of course, supermarket CEOs will vouchsafe to rid themselves of weak, bent links in the food chain and politicians will announce a tsunami of crackdowns to right the wrongs they’ll never admit to making.

But sure as eggs are eggs – and not infested with salmonella – the next scandal, scam or rip-off is just round the proverbial corner.

And, once again, don’t expect any heads to roll. Because those responsible will deny any culpability or accountability for it ever happening.

You can bet your shirt or horseburger on that.