Delhi High court protects Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF)
The concept of RTBF has arisen from the desires of individuals to determine the development of their life autonomously, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized because of a specific action performed in the past. The proponent of free speech questions whether creating a right to be forgotten would decrease the quality of the Internet through censorship and the rewriting of history. Those in favor of the right to be forgotten cite its necessity due to issues such as revenge porn sites appearing in search engine listings for a person’s name. Furthermore, instances of these results referencing petty crimes individuals may have committed in the past. The central concern lies in the potential undue influence that such results may exert upon a person’s online reputation almost indefinitely if not removed
Our post discusses a recent ruling of the Delhi High Court concerning the ‘right to privacy and right to be forgotten.
Jorawer Singh Mundy, an American citizen by birth but a person of Indian origin, came to India in 2009. At that time, Police registered a case against him under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The trial court, as well as the appellate Court acquitted him of all charges.
On Petitioner completing his studies started facing massive disadvantage due to the availability of the judgment of Indian courts on the google search engine to any potential employer, who wanted to conduct his background verification before employing him. According to the Petitioner, despite him having had a good academic record, he could not get any employment to his expectations due to the availability of judgment online.
The Petitioner then sent legal notices to the search engines Google and the free online judgment websites, Indian Kanoon and vLex.in, to remove the judgment. vLex.in acted on the notice and removed the judgment, however, Google and Indian Kanoon did not remove the judgment.
Thereafter, the Petitioner approached Delhi High Court to recognize his right to privacy by ordering the search engines to remove the judgment.
The Court was of the view that since Petitioner was acquitted of the charges in the case brought against him. Therefore, irreparable prejudice may be caused to the Petitioner’s social life and his career prospects, and thus Court should grant some interim protection. The Court directed Google and Indian Kanoon to remove/block access to the judgement pertaining to the Petitioner as an interim measure. The Court, in its ruling relied upon K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1. In Zulfiqar Ahman Khan v. Quintillion Businessman Media Pvt. Ltd & Ors where it was held that “Right to privacy, of which the `Right to be forgotten’ and the `Right to be left alone’ are inherent aspects”
The Court, therefore, proceeded to frame the following issue and listed the case in August 2021 for arguments:
“Whether a Court order can be removed from online platforms is an issue which requires examination of both the Right to Privacy of the Petitioner on the one hand, and the Right to Information of the public and maintenance of transparency in judicial records on the other hand”.
One the aspect of the direction issued by the Court that is a judgement not to be found through search engines, the Delhi High Court in another case titled X v. Union of India (W.P.(CRL) 1082/2020) concerning a photograph of the Petitioner posted on a pornographic website that could be accessed from any part of the world issued elaborate directions to the search engine(s). The Court directed the search engines, “to make the offending content non-searchable by ‘de-indexing’ and ‘de-referencing’ the offending content in their listed search results, including de-indexing and de-referencing all concerned web pages, sub-pages or sub-directories on which the offending content is found”. The Court in X v. Union of India case was also the view that a search engine must block the search results having the offending content throughout the world since issuing such an order will serve no purpose if it has no realistic prospect of preventing irreparable harm to a litigant. The order in the RTBF scenario and in X v. Union of India reflects the global nature of the Internet and mischief it can cause.