There have been many debates, speculations and column inches dedicated to ‘the right to be forgotten’ since it was approved by the European court of Justice this spring. But like it or not, it’s actually happening.

According to a recent report, Google says it has “removed 498,737 links from search results since May this year – including 63,616 pages following requests from the UK.” This amounts to the removal of 35% of links to unwanted links to web pages following requests made in the UK.

The UK is ranked the 3rd highest in Europe for requests for information to be removed – is this something to celebrate, or fear? Proponents say that the right to be forgotten is about data privacy and protection for citizens, while opponents argue it is censorship and the equivalent of re-writing history to hide all the unfavourable bits.

In my opinion, granting the right to be forgotten is at direct odds with the right to free speech, which are of course subject to the laws of libel.

I can’t help but lean towards the latter viewpoint. I find it hard to accept the argument that giving search engine companies the power (and the burden) to make decisions on what to censor based on requests received from individual members of the public is protecting anyone. Of course there are a few exceptions to the rule, but I agree with ZDNet’s Steve Ranger who wrote that “it’s very hard to see why information which is fair and accurate should be removed from view.”

One could argue that an embarrassing photo or a review or article in a newspaper does not constitute ‘fair and accurate’ if it portrays someone in a negative light, but if we were to sanitise the internet and remove all of the information we didn’t like, where would we be? Every business would be portrayed as infallible, every decision seen as the right one, every failure would be omitted and every controversial opinion undisputed… I don’t think I’m alone in finding this a chilling scenario!

In my opinion, granting the right to be forgotten is at direct odds with the right to free speech, which are of course subject to the laws of libel.

But ranting isn’t really going to change the EU ruling, so what do we do now? As the politicians and search engines battle it out over how to decide what to remove and what stays without violating anyone’s rights or putting control of the internet into the hands of private companies, we can promote the responsible use of online information without having to resort to placing the role of censorship into the hands of the librarian or the search engine.

And just because something can no longer be found on a search engine, does it mean it no longer exists?

This article was first published by Fourthsource.com and can be viewed here ‘the right to be forgotten – who is the censor?’