Regaining Digital Privacy? The New 'Right to be Forgotten' and Online Expression

AuthorFiona Brimblecombe & Gavin Phillipson
PositionTutor in Law and Doctoral Candidate, Durham Law School/Professor of Law, Durham University
Regaining Digital Privacy? e New
“Right to be Forgotten” and Online
Fiona Brimblecombe* & Gavin Phillipson**
is article considers how the newly-formulated “Right to be Forgotten” in Article 17 of
the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation will apply to “online expression”,
that is, content placed online via social and other forms of media. It starts by seeking
to refute the argument that the widespread sharing of personal information online
means that digital privacy no longer matters, considering in particular the key role that
privacy as informational control plays in self-actualisation and how the advent of a
right to erase may alter judicial understandings of informational autonomy. It goes on
to consider some of the key interpretive dilemmas posed by Article 17, in particular the
questions of when individuals and online intermediaries may be xed with obligations
under the Regulation and who may claim the broad “journalism exemption”; in doing so
it contests the notion that the privacy obligations of social media platforms like Facebook
should invariably be treated dierently from those of search engines like Google. It
then goes on to argue that the right to privacy enshrined in Article 8 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the Strasbourg Court, is likely to
be an important factor in the interpretation of the new right, and how it is balanced
with freedom of expression. Using a variety of data dissemination scenarios it considers
how Strasbourg’s ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ test, and the factors that underlie
it, might apply to the resolution of dierent kinds of erasure claims under Article 17.
In doing so it analyses the applicability of a number of relevant factors drawn from the
Strasbourg case law, including the content of the personal data in question, its form,
whether the data subject is a “public gure”, implied “waiver” of privacy rights, how the
data was collected and disseminated and whether it relates to something that occurred
in a physically public location.
* Tutor in Law and Doctoral Candidate, Durham Law School, Durham
** Professor of Law, Durham Law School, Durham University. e authors
would like to thank David Erdos, Kirsty Hughes and Tom Bennett for
comments on all or part of an earlier draft and David Erdos for numerous
helpful discussions: the usual disclaimer applies.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
I. I
II. S M  S-D: T A  P O
A. Why the Need for a Right to be Forgotten?
B. eoretical Dimensions
III. T R   F: K I I
A. e Focus of is Article
B. Article 17 GDPR: e Basics
C. Some Key Interpretive Dilemmas
1. Can Individuals Using Social Media be Data Controllers?
2. Intermediary Liability
3. Reliance on the Journalism Exemption or Freedom of
IV. A P R  A  ECHR
A. e General Relevance of Strasbourg Case Law
B. How Strasbourg’s Article 8 Jurisprudence Might Apply
1. Data Dissemination Scenarios
V. F G   W   A  C  T P
A  RTBF
A. e Nature of the Information
B. e Form of the Information: Images or Text?
C. Is the Data Subject a Public Figure?
1. e Importance of the “Public Figure” Criterion.
2. Strasbourg’s Approach to “Public Figures”
3. Conceptual Problems with the “Public Figure” Doctrine
D. Prior Conduct of the Person Concerned as Waiving eir Right to
E. Circumstances in Which the Information Was Obtained
F. Does the Personal Data Relate to a Public or Private Location?
VI. C
(2018) 4 CJCCL
I. Introduction
No-one living in a European Union country could fail to have noticed
that on 25th May 2018, a new data protection regime came into
force across the EU — the General Data Protection Regulation.1 Work
on the f‌inal stages of this article was punctuated by the constant arrival
of “GDPR emails” from various organisations, imploring the authors
to “stay in touch” by consenting to the continuing use of their contact
details. As the emails piled up in inboxes, GDPR jokes proliferated
on Twitter.2 But beyond the mundane requirements of ensuring some
control for the storing of personal data like email addresses, the GDPR
introduced something both far more controversial but also shrouded in
considerable mystery: an explicit “right to be forgotten” (“RTBF”).3 As is
well known, a limited right along these lines derives from a famous case
decided by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”): Google
Spain SL v Agencia Española de protección de Datos, which interpreted
the right to erasure under the previous Data Protection Directive 1995
so as to give individuals rights in relation to search indexing.4 is has
given rise to (at the last count) 680,000 requests for delisting, which have
led to over 1.8 million URLs being removed from search results, amid
1. EC, Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament
and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons
with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement
of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection
Regulation), [2016] OJ, L 119/1 [GDPR]. e GDPR replaced the
previous Data Protection Directive 95/46 EC [1995 Directive].
2. Martin Belam, “Businesses Resort To Desperate Emailing as GDPR
Deadline Looms” e Guardian (24 May 2018), online: e Guardian
3. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17. is goes considerably further than the right
to erasure in Article 12(b) of the Directive, supra note 1.
4. Google Spain SL and Google Inc v Agencia Española de Protección de
Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González (13 May 2014), C-131/12,
ECLI:EU:C:2014:317 (CJEU) [Google Spain]. e right to erasure
appeared in the previous 1995 Directive, supra note 1, art 12(b); the
judgment also referenced the right to object in Article 14.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
considerable controversy.5 However this right was limited — at least in
the original judgment — to requesting Google and other search engines
to de-list certain search results: Google Spain did not itself cover the right
to request the deletion of actual content.6 Hence while that decision was
controversial world-wide,7 the GDPR, in introducing a more detailed,
5. Daphne Keller, “e Right Tools: Europe’s Intermediary Liability Laws
and the 2016 General Data Protection Regulation” Social Sciences Research
Network (22 March 2017), online: SSRN
papers.cfm?abstract_id=2914684> at 25 [Keller, “Right Tools”]. e
searches referred to are those made under an individual’s name.
6. See Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 34–35 citing Article 29 Data
Protection Working Party, Guidelines on the Implementation of the Court
of Justice of the European Union Judgment on “Google Spain and Inc.
v. Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja
Gonzales C-131/12”, (2014) 14/EN (WP 225) at 2, online:> [Article 29 Google
Spain Guidelines] (Keller has pointed out that “data protection regulators
have said that Google de-listings do not signif‌icantly threaten [free speech]
rights, precisely because information is still available on the webpage”).
However, as David Erdos has noted, there have been several judgments at
the domestic level applying Google Spain that have resulted in deletion of
substantive content: for examples see David Erdos, “Delimiting the Ambit
of Responsibility of Intermediary Publishers for ird Party Rights in
European Data Protection: Towards a Synthetic Interpretation of the EU
acquis (2018) International Journal of Law and Information Technology
1–37 [Erdos, Intermediary Publishers].
7. See e.g. Eduardo Ustaran, “e Wider Ef‌fect of the ‘Right to Be
Forgotten’ Case” (2014)14:8 Privacy & Data Protection 8; Paul Bernal,
“e Right to Be Forgotten in the Post-Snowden Era” (2014) 5:1 Privacy
in Germany (10 August 2014), online: PinG
the-right-to-be-forgotten-in-the-post-snowden-era/detail.html>; Daniel
Solove, “What Google Must Forget: e EU Ruling on the Right to be
Forgotten”, LinkedIn (13 May 2014), online: LinkedIn
(2018) 4 CJCCL
comprehensive and explicit RTBF, will be more contentious still.8 It
should be of interest to Canadians, for two reasons. First, the GDPR has
extra-territorial ef‌fect:9 it will apply to entities based outside the EU that
provide services to EU citizens involving the processing of their personal
data. As is well known, Google Spain applied EU data protection law
to Google, on the basis that it had a subsidiary base within the EU.
But second, a Canadian version of RTBF is in the of‌f‌ing: the Of‌f‌ice
of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada recently concluded that such a
right10 already exists in Canadian law.11 Canadian regulators and courts
applying this right may well draw inspiration from European case law
and regulatory practice arising under Article 17.
But what does the new provision actually mean, how will it work and
how will it be reconciled with freedom of expression? Answers to these
questions are far from easy, in part because scholars are only just starting
to grapple with the new regime. As leading commentator Daphne Keller
puts it, while “oceans of scholarly ink have been spilled discussing the
8. For reaction so far see e.g. Meg Ambrose, “It’s About Time: Privacy,
Information Life Cycles, and the Right to be Forgotten” (2013) 16:2
Stanford Technology Law Review 369; Jef‌frey Rosen, “e Right
to be Forgotten” (2012) 64:88 Stanford Law Review Online; Diane
Zimmerman, “e ‘New’ Privacy and the ‘Old’: Is Applying the Tort
Law of Privacy Like Putting High Button Shoes on the Internet?” (2012)
17:2 Communications Law and Policy 107; Paul Schwartz, “e EU-US
Privacy Collision: A Turn to Institutions and Procedures” (2013) 126:7
Harvard Law Review 1966.
9. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 3, art 3(1) and 2(1)(a) (it applies to “the
processing of personal data of data subjects who are in the [EU] by a
controller or processor not established in the Union, where the processing
activities are related to … the of‌fering of  services  to such data
subjects in the [EU]” at art 3(2)(a).
10. at is a right both to require search engines to ‘de-index’ certain results
and to require individual websites to take data down.
11. See e.g. Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, SC
2000, c 5; and Of‌f‌ice of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “Draft
OPC Position on Online Reputation” (26 January 2018) online: OPC
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
Google Spain case … the same cannot be said of the … GDPR”.12 But
this is also because major questions generated by the new regime remain
beset by uncertainty. As Keller puts it: “[e]ven Data Protection experts
can’t say for sure how the GDPR answers hugely consequential questions,
like whether hosting platforms [such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube
and Tumblr] must carry out RTBF removals”,13 partly because of the
sometimes “opaque” drafting of the GDPR.14 ere is also ambiguity
around how far individuals using social media may themselves become
f‌ixed with obligations under the GDPR.15
ese questions are important because the record of de-listing
requests made under Google Spain gives us good reason to believe that
social media companies will be a key target for Article 17 requests:
George Brock found that “[t]he eight sites for which Google receives
the most requests are either social media or prof‌iling sites” and of
these, requests to delink to Facebook posts have been the single largest
category, with “some 130,000 Facebook links … removed from view”
by May 2016.16 Hence the question of whether individuals and social
media platforms should be treated as data controllers will very quickly
assume great practical importance. Both groups, if exposed to potential
data protection obligations, will also want to know whether they can
claim the benef‌it of the broad, “journalistic” exemption.17 Ordinary
people will also want to know if they can at least claim their own freedom
of expression as a defence, even if they cannot claim to be acting for
journalistic purposes. ese major uncertainties have not comforted
12. Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 26.
13. Ibid at 30.
14. Ibid at 31.
15. See below, Part III.C.1.
16. George Brock, e Right to be Forgotten: Privacy and the Media in the
Digital Age (London: IB Tauris, 2016) at 51.
17. ere are four “special purposes” under which national law may grant
exemptions from GDPR obligations under Article 85(2); the others
being “academic”, “literary” and “artistic” purposes. Either or both of the
“academic” and “journalistic” exemptions may be relevant to academics
blogging and using social media to promote and discuss their areas of
research. See further below at 24, and Part III.C.3.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
those expressing strong concern about the possible impact of all this
on online freedom of expression, especially what some commentators
have analysed as structural and procedural features that will push online
intermediaries like Google and Facebook in the direction of acceding to
RTBF requests even when unsound.18 It is possible that national courts
and legislatures, under pressure from media and the web giants, may seek
to ameliorate the likely ef‌fect of the GDPR on their operations. Some
national courts have at times been ready to cut down sharply the scope of
key data protection def‌initions — such as “personal data” — in order to
limit the impact of EU data protection rules on national law.19
ere is clear guidance from the CJEU that EU data protection law
must be interpreted and applied in a way that respects the “fundamental
rights of the [EU] legal order”20 which now include the basic rights to
privacy, data protection and freedom of expression in the European
Union Charter on Fundamental Rights.21 Moreover, crucially, for the
purposes of this article, the Court has said that guarantees in the Charter
that are cognate to those in the European Convention on Human Rights
(“ECHR”) must be interpreted so as to give them “the same meaning
and scope”22 as the ECHR rights — in this case the more long-standing
18. See e.g. infra note 157.
19. For example, the UK Court of Appeal interpreted the notoriously
broad concept of “personal data” narrowly by f‌inding that whether an
individual’s data constitutes personal data depends inter alia on whether it
is “information that af‌fects his privacy, whether in his personal or family
life, business or professional capacity” see Durant v Financial Services
Authority, [2003] EWCA Civ 1746 at para 28.
20. Lindqvist v Aklagarkammaren I Jonkoping, C-101/01, [2003] ECR at
I-12992 [Lindqvist].
21. EC, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, [2000] OJ,
C 364/01 [EU Charter] (Articles 7, 8, and 10 protecting, respectively
privacy, data protection and freedom of expression).
22. Philip Morris Brands SARL v Secretary of State for Health,
C-547/14, [2016] ECLI:EU:C:2016:325 (CJEU); see also
Bernard Connolly v Commission of the European Communities, C-274/99,
[2001] ECR I-1638 at paras 37–42; see also Article 52(3) of the EU
Charter, below at 40.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
ECHR rights to privacy and freedom of expression.23 Hence an important
guide to the meaning of Article 17 is likely to be the jurisprudence of
the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (“the Strasbourg
Court”). is is particularly so given that, as Keller observes, “[c]ases
balancing rights to expression versus privacy … exist — but those rarely
involve Data Protection, or set out rules for [online service providers],
as opposed to ordinary publishers or speakers.”24 e one decision
Keller cites here is the leading Strasbourg decision of Von Hannover v
Germany25 — which involved a traditional privacy claim against the print
media. Hence a key enterprise of this paper: to try to f‌igure out how the
newly-formulated right to be forgotten will apply to online expression
by drawing out relevant principles from the privacy case-law of the
Strasbourg Court and applying them to this new situation. We should
stress that our endeavour is limited to how the primary right should be
construed, whom it will bind and who may claim exemptions from it
by reference to the countervailing right of freedom of expression or the
journalistic exemption. We do not go on to consider the substantive
content of the freedom of expression side of the balance:26 that would
23. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms, 4 November 1950, 213 UNTS 221 arts 8–10 (entered into
force 3 September 1953) [ECHR]. Article 8 provides: “(1) Everyone
has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his
correspondence”. e second paragraph provides for restrictions only as
they are provided for by law, in pursuit of a legitimate aim, such as the
prevention of disorder or crime, or “protection of the rights and freedoms
of others” and are necessary to protect these other rights or interests,
which imports a proportionality test. Article 10 provides in para 1 that
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression”; the second paragraph
provides a similar set of exceptions to para 2 of Article 8.
24. Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at n 186.
25. No 59320/00, [2004] VI ECHR 41 [Von Hannover].
26. On balancing speech and privacy rights under the ECHR see, generally,
e.g. Helen Fenwick & Gavin Phillipson, Media Freedom Under the UK
Human Rights Act (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) ch 1–2,
15; Eric Barendt, “Balancing Freedom of Expression and Privacy: e
Jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court” (2009) 1:1 Journal of Media Law
(2018) 4 CJCCL
require a separate paper.
is article is structured as follows. Part II will f‌irst sketch the
challenges our contemporary online environment poses to traditional
notions of privacy and explain how the RTBF of‌fers the potential for
greater privacy protection; in doing so it will answer some common
objections to the notion of seeking to protect the privacy of users who
themselves frequently disclose aspects of their own private life online.
Part III will then set out the basic right under Article 17 and place it
within the framework of the GDPR; it will consider some key interpretive
questions that arise, including the potential legal responsibilities as “data
controllers” of individuals and social media platforms under the GDPR
and whether they may invoke the defence of freedom of expression
and/or “journalistic purposes” when doing so. Part IV will introduce
Strasbourg’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” test and the multiple
dif‌ferent ways it could be applied to the right to be forgotten, depending
on the circumstances in which the right is invoked. Part V will then
move on to consider the individual factors the Strasbourg Court employs
when assessing whether a reasonable expectation of privacy exists and its
strength — a crucial factor when it comes to balancing privacy claims
against competing free expression interests. e following factors will be
discussed: (a) the content of the data; (b) its form; (c) whether the data
subject is a public f‌igure; (d) implied “waiver” of privacy rights; (e) how
the data was collected and disseminated; (f) whether the data relates to
something that occurred in a physically public location.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
II. Social Media and Self-Disclosure: e
Abandonment of Privacy Online?
A. Why the Need for a Right to be Forgotten?
e right to erasure was formulated with the clear view of enhancing
data privacy rights for EU citizens.27 It is thus a considered response to
technological advances that have resulted in “personal information being
posted online at a staggering rate”,28 driven by the increasing prominence
of social networking sites,29 a digitised media,30 cloud computing31 and
the widespread usage of websites in relation to professional life,32 dating,33
and sex.34 A recent article noted that everyday 1.18 billion people will log
into their Facebook accounts, often sharing both their own and other’s
personal data, 3,500 million tweets will be sent, 95 million photos
and videos will be posted on Instagram and Youtube content creators
will upload 72 hours of new video every minute.35 A book published
in 2014 recorded that Google processes, worldwide, over 3.5 billion
searches a day. It adds, “the company had been in business more than a
decade before it admitted that it had stored a record of every search ever
27. Viviane Reding, “e EU Data Protection Reform 2012: Making Europe
the Standard Setter for Modern Data Protection Rules in the Digital
Age” European Commission Press Release Database (22 January 2012),
online: European Commission
28. Daniel J Solove, e Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on
the Internet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007) at 19.
29. 2.46 billion people worldwide now use social networking sites: see e.g.
Statista, online: Statista
30. See e.g. BBC News, online: BBC .
31. See e.g. Apple’s iCloud, online: Apple .
32. See e.g. LinkedIn, online: LinkedIn .
33. See e.g. Eharmony, online: Eharmony
seo/>; Match, online: Match .
34. See e.g. Tinder, online: Tinder>.
35. Max Mills “Sharing Privately: the Ef‌fect Publication on Social Media Has
on Expectations of Privacy” (2016) 9:1 Journal of Media Law 45.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
requested”.36 What Solove calls “generation Google”37 became familiar
from an increasingly young age38 with internet-enabled smartphones and
tablets that can take, store and upload photographs in seconds, allowing
for highly impulsive sharing. Meanwhile the popularity of blogging and
vlogging, including by minors, continues to grow, with one study f‌inding
that many are more akin to “personal diaries” (37%) rather than being
devoted to topics like politics (11%). Solove comments:
As people chronicle the minutia of their daily lives from childhood onwards
in blog entries, online conversations, photographs, and videos, they are forever
altering their futures – and those of their friends, relatives, and others.39
Mayer-Schönberger’s seminal work, Delete, drew attention to the risks
of a “loss of forgetting” in the digital age, with the huge quantity of
personal data now “remembered” online, due to the “perfect recall” of
the internet, threatening to reduce the personal autonomy of individuals
and their ability to “move on” in their lives.40 As Solove puts it, people
want the option of “starting over, of reinventing themselves” but may
nowadays be hampered in doing so by their “digital baggage”.41 In this
regard search engines play a crucial role, rendering information on
incidents that happened years ago instantly retrievable world-wide. One
author gives the example of a student posting on a blog that she spotted
her teacher in a gay bar; when that kind of gossip circulated in hard copy
36. Brock, supra note 16 at 20.
37. Daniel Solove, “Speech, Privacy, and Reputation on the Internet” in Saul
Levmore & Martha Nussbaum, eds, e Of‌fensive Internet: Speech, Privacy,
and Reputation (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2010) 17
[Solove, “Speech, Privacy”].
38. See e.g. Ofcom, “Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report”
(October 2014), online: Ofcom
pdf> (stating that almost 8 in 10 children aged 12–15 own a mobile
phone and there has been an increase since 2013 in those children using
such phones to go online).
39. Daniel Solove, e Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the
Internet (New Haven: Yale University Press: 2007) at 24.
40. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Delete: e Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital
Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press: 2009).
41. Solove, “Speech, Privacy”, supra note 37 at 18.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
student gossip sheets, it would have been buried in obscurity within a few
months. Nowadays, “a person thinking of hiring the teacher twenty years
later” can f‌ind that information “with just a few keystrokes”.42
B. eoretical Dimensions
We have thus far suggested that this explosion of personal data online,
and the harm it can do, shows why we need a right to delete. However
we must at this point consider a commonly advanced objection: that,
not only has the internet rendered privacy laws more dif‌f‌icult to enforce
but that the behaviour of people online shows that people today —
particularly, it is said, young people — proves that they value self-
expression, or “transparency over informational privacy”.43 It is certainly a
common trope to bemoan the prevalence of “young people who behave
as if privacy doesn’t exist”44 or they “don’t care” about it.45 When the Pew
Foundation canvassed the views of experts, one wrote “[w]e have seen the
emergence of publicity as the default modality”46 while the Foundation
summed up their collective view as being that “privacy [is] no longer a
‘condition’ of American life”.47 In order to respond to this argument it is
42. Geof‌frey R Stone, “Privacy, the First Amendment, and the Internet” in
Saul Levmore & Martha Nussbaum, eds, e Of‌fensive Internet: Speech,
Privacy, and Reputation (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press,
2010) 192.
43. Ibid at 193 (emphasis added).
44. Emily Nussbaum, “Say Everything” New York (12 February 2007), online:
New York .
45. See e.g. Irina Raicu, “Young adults take more security measures for their
online privacy than their elders” recode (2 November 2016), online:
oversharing-security-digital-online-privacy>; see also Lee Rainie, “e
state of privacy in post-Snowden America” Pew Research Center (21
September 2016), online: Pew Research Center
46. Lee Rainie & Janne Anderson “e Future of PrivacyPew Research
Center (8 December 2014) quoting Stowe Boyd, online: Pew Research
Center .
47. Ibid.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
necessary to recall some basics from the theoretical literature on privacy.48
We make no attempt to add substantively to that already copious
literature: our aim is simply to highlight the relevance of a key distinction
that is in danger of being forgotten in this discussion. In summary our
argument is that views like the above may tempt us to overlook a fairly
fundamental distinction: between privacy as a state-of-being, and privacy
as a claim: a moral claim, that can also be a legal one.
What is the essence of this distinction? e starting point is that
privacy as a state-of-being is descriptive; privacy as a claim is normative.
As a description of privacy, we consider that one of the most compelling
comes from the scholarship of Ruth Gavison49 and Nicole Moreham:50
that privacy is a state of “desired in-access to others”.51Access” to a
person can obviously occur on a number of dif‌ferent levels: through
touch, through sight (a peeping Tom), through hearing (by someone
eavesdropping on a private conversation), through intrusion into our
physical space (someone coming uninvited into your garden or home),
or through a person accessing personal information about us (by reading
our emails or other online private content). e argument in short is that
our privacy depends upon the extent to which others can see or access
us. is is why — to give simple examples — we have locked doors for
toilets, and why we do not, by and large, undress in public: locked doors
and clothes alike put some barriers in the way of the visual access others
48. For a major recent work on privacy in a networked world see Julie
E Cohen, Conf‌iguring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of
Everyday Practice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
49. Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of the Law” (1980) 89:3 Yale Law
Journal 421.
50. Nicole Moreham, “Privacy in the Common Law: A Doctrinal and
eoretical Analysis” (2005) 121:4 Law Quarterly Review 628. For an
account along broadly similar lines, see also RB Parker “A Def‌inition of
Privacy” (1974) 27:2 Rutgers Law Review 275.
51. e “desired” element of course is to distinguish enjoying privacy from
being marooned on a desert island, or in solitary conf‌inement desperate
for any human contact — it would be odd in such situations to describe
someone as being in a state of perfect privacy: see e.g. Moreham, ibid at
636, et seq.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
have to us.52 We may also seek to bar access not to our writings but our
identities, as where people blog anonymously online,53 a classic example
of the key online phenomena Mills calls “sharing privately”. 54 A well-
known key ef‌fect of the internet is that the unwanted access to us that
one or two people might obtain in the physical world (through prying
or eavesdropping) can be instantaneously granted to millions of others
— when images or recordings of a person are posted online. e online
world therefore poses the “insidious threat that information shared has
the capacity to be disseminated further, throughout social networking
sites and even reaching mass media”.55 e literature is full of examples:
an extreme one concerns a girl who, back in 2000, made intimate videos
for her boyfriend of her stripping and masturbating; they were placed
online by persons unknown and became some of the f‌irst “viral videos”,
turning her into an accidental online porn star, with her own Wikipedia
entry.56A more mundane example is the Daily Mail publishing Facebook
photos of drunken “girls’ nights out” to a mass audience under the
headline: “e ladettes who glorify their shameful antics on Facebook”.57
e above discussion shows how a key contemporary concern is that
greater access to the informational dimension of our private sphere will
52. Kirsty Hughes analyses such behaviour as the placing of “privacy barriers”
in the way of others; invasions of privacy occur when such barriers are
breached: see Kirsty Hughes, “A Behavioural Understanding of Privacy
and its Implications for Privacy Law” (2012) 75:5 e Modern Law
Review 806.
53. For a decision that failed to recognise the vital privacy-based interest in
anonymous blogging see e Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd,
[2009] EWHC 1358 (QB).
54. Mills, supra note 35 at 46.
55. Ibid.
56. Nussbaum, supra note 44.
57. Andrew Levy, “e ladettes who glorify their shameful drunken antics
on Facebook” Mail Online (5 November 2007), online: Mail Online
shamefuldrunken-antics-Facebook.html>. Multiple extreme examples of
such persecutory and harassing speech are discussed by Danielle Citron in
Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press,
(2018) 4 CJCCL
diminish our privacy as a state-of-being. In response to this concern,
people put forward a claim to privacy. Many have argued that this is best
captured as being a claim for control over our personal information:58 that
it is up to the individual how much of their private sphere — including
information — they choose to share with others. Certainly, the notion
of informational autonomy is the easiest to apply to the regulation of
online privacy: both the EU and Strasbourg Courts have recognised it as
a key value underlying both data protection and Article 8 ECHR. Recital
7 of the GDPR states that, “[n]atural persons should have control of
their own personal data”;59 the Strasbourg Court recently observed that
Article 8 ECHR, the right to privacy, “provides for the right to a form of
‘informational self-determination’”.60 It is when that control is taken from
individuals — revealing images of them are posted online, their phone is
58. Alan Westin, Privacy and Freedom (London: e Bodley Head Ltd, 1970)
(Westin has argued that “privacy is the claim of individuals to determine
for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them
is communicated to others” at 7); see also Alan Westin, “e Origins of
Modern Claims to Privacy” in Ferdinand Schoeman, ed, Philosophical
Dimensions of Privacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 56;
Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy in Context:Technology, Policy, and the Integrity
of Social Life (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press 2009); Paul Gewirtz,
“Privacy and Speech” (2001) 2001:1 e Supreme Court Review 139;
Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1968) 77:3 Yale Law Journal 475, esp 482–43;
Solove, “Speech, Privacy”, supra note 37 at 21 (Solove uses practical
examples to show the keen desire for control over accessibility: over
700,000 people complained to Facebook when it introduced News Feed,
alerting people’s friends when their prof‌ile was changed or updated even
though many of the complainants had publicly available prof‌iles).
59. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 7.
60. Satakunnan Markkinaporssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v Finland, No 931/13
(27 January 2017) [Satakunnan].
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
hacked,61 their email and telephone records accessed by government,62 or
photos taken of them coming out of a drug treatment facility63 — that
we can say their privacy has been “invaded”.
From this one initial point emerges: while people can choose to give
others greater or lesser “access” to their personal sphere, they cannot —
as tabloid editors are prone to say as justif‌ication for publishing intrusive
stories about publicity-seeking celebrities — “invade their own privacy”.
It is only when someone’s control over their private sphere is taken from
them that their privacy is invaded. at is, at least, the “old media
perspective. Applying this insight to social media is slightly more complex
— but of far more universal application: it applies to all of us who post
some kind of personal information online. It is true that our behaviour in
doing this may show a very dif‌ferent attitude to privacy from that of our
parents’ or grandparents’ generation;64 this leads to the argument, noted
above, that such behaviour shows that people nowadays care more about
transparency and expression than privacy.
To address this argument, we must consider the complex relationship
between the needs of self-expression and sociability and of privacy,
used in a descriptive sense. We draw close to people by giving them
access to us — to our thoughts, our vulnerabilities, homes, or personal
space; in the case of sex and love, to the most intimate parts and aspects
of ourselves. What we do appear to have seen in the last few decades
61. See e.g. UK, Leveson Inquiry, An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and
Ethics of the Press by e Right Honourable Lord Justice Leveson: Report,
(London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Of‌f‌ice, 2012) (concerns about press
practices such as blagging and hacking led to the Leveson Inquiry as well
as numerous civil cases against newspapers, most of which were settled).
62. In the UK the revelation of the bulk collection of communications data
by the state led eventually to the decision in Secretary of State for the
Home Department v Watson MP, [2018] EWCA Civ 70 f‌inding the then
regulations unlawful: they have been replaced with permanent, sweeping
statutory powers under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
63. As in the leading UK decision of Campbell v MGN Ltd, [2004] UKHL 22
64. See Nussbaum, supra note 44, for a range of extreme examples of self-
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is a shift in the relative value people give to privacy as state-of-being,
compared to the value they attach to self-expression online as a means
of connecting with people. Some people undoubtedly use social media
to do this in a rather undif‌ferentiated way: for example, seeking approval
for their physical appearance from an online mass audience, instead of a
few close friends.65
However — and this is our key point — none of this means that
people do not still value the right to privacy: they still want to decide
what and how much they share — even if some use that choice to share
far more with far more people than their parents would have dreamt of
doing. A recent research project by the Pew Foundation found that “74%
[of Americans] say it is ‘very important’ to them that they be in control of
who can get information about them”.66 We see this in increasing concern
and awareness about things like the “privacy settings” on Facebook,67
how far people really give consent to the volume of information they
are sharing with Google (which knows all the searches you’ve made) or
Amazon or Kindle (which knows which of their books you have read);
or Gmail, which has all the emails you’ve sent.68 Dif‌ferent people will
always draw this boundary dif‌ferently and that in itself is no cause of
concern: in the “of‌f‌line” world we will all know some people who are
quite reserved — sharing aspects of their private life with only a few
65. An extreme example is the phenomena of “ratings communities”, like
“nonuglies”, where people post photos of themselves to be judged and
rated by strangers. See Nussbaum, ibid, for these and other examples and
e.g. .
66. Lee Rainie, “e State of Privacy in Post-Snowden America” Pew Research
Center (21 September 2016), online: Pew Research Center .>. While such control can
be argued to have good consequences it can also be seen in deontological
terms as an aspect of human dignity; for a classic account see Edward J
Bloustein, “Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity: An Answer to Dean
Prosser” (1964) 39:6 New York University Law Review 962.
67. See e.g. Solove, “Speech, Privacy”, supra note 37 at 21, discussed supra
note 58.
68. For a recent major work on this subject see Neil Richards, Intellectual
Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2015).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
trusted friends — and others, who will drunkenly share intimate details
of their love-lives with near-strangers. Privacy boundaries vary greatly
between dif‌ferent societies; even within given societies, they will vary
greatly between individuals and be drawn and re-drawn repeatedly. All
that we can generalise is that it is a pervasive feature of human relations
that, as Solove puts it, most people “reveal information to certain groups
while keeping it from others”.69
A key point therefore is that, while the boundaries between self-
expression and privacy will always vary between people and shift as
society changes, none of that means that individuals should be deemed to
have given up the core right to privacy — the claim that is, to exercise some
control over access to their inner sphere, and particularly, their personal
information. To argue that someone who chooses to share a great deal of
their private information with others online, for that reason becomes fair
game to have their private information taken from them without their
consent, is a little like arguing that a woman who chooses to share her
body intimately with many others by having numerous transitory sexual
partners should lose her right to choose with whom she has sex.70
at then is the core response to the argument that the proliferation
of intimate personal information placed voluntarily online provides a
reason against allowing legal claims for invasion of privacy when such
information is used involuntarily. But there is a further point, also a
well-known argument, but we think particularly apt in the case of social
media. While the press and much scholarship, particularly from US
First Amendment scholars, tends to portray privacy and self-expression
as invariably in tension,71 they also go hand-in-hand. Privacy, as Fried
has argued, is essential to the intimate communication vital to fostering
69. Daniel Solove, e Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the
Information Age (New York: New York University Press, 2004) at 42–4.
70. We do not of course suggest that the scale of violation in the two cases
is comparable, merely the way in which, in both cases, past behaviour is
used to justify dispensing with consent.
71. See e.g. Diane Zimmerman, “Requiem for a Heavyweight: a Farewell to
Warren and Brandeis’s Privacy Tort” (1983) 68:3 Cornell Law Review
291; Richards, supra note 68.
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close relationships: most of us will only share information that might be
deeply painful or simply embarrassing with a friend or partner if we are
reasonably sure that they will keep it to themselves; hence an assurance
of privacy can actually ensure greater self-expression between people and
thus greater intimacy.72 Online, this often translates into the need for
anonymity, in which guise it facilitates individual self-exploration in the
form of reading, watching and listening to a wide range of media often
shared on social media, as well as blogging on intimate subjects. For
example a deeply-conservative Evangelical Christian, seeking to explore
his possible homosexuality is likely to do so online only if fairly sure
that he can keep his explorations to himself. Exactly the same argument
applies to the personal blogs that abound on the internet. is is what
De Cew calls “expressive” privacy — “a realm for expressing one’s self-
identity or personhood”.73 is dimension of privacy then is crucial to
individual self-development, exploration and self-actualisation: all values
commonly argued to underlie free speech.74
us as Mayer-Schönberger has pointed out, the purpose of the
right to delete is to combat the loss of control an individual faces when
their information and history — in a very real sense their personal
identity — becomes, in Bernal’s words, “an indelible part of a mass
of information usable and controllable by others”.75 However, the
notion of a right to delete should also change the way the concept of
informational autonomy is applied in privacy cases. Under the “old-
media” paradigm, previous self-publicity could be treated as a “waiver”
72. See Charles Fried, “Privacy” (1968) 77:3 e Yale Law Journal 475; for a
similar argument, see Jef‌frey Reiman, “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood”
(1976) 6:1 Philosophy & Public Af‌fairs 26.
73. Judith W DeCew, “e Scope of Privacy in Law and Ethics” (1986) 5:2
Law and Philosophy 145, at 166, also see 167–170.
74. For classic accounts see Frederick Schauer, Free Speech: A Philosophical
Enquiry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Kent
Greenawalt, “Free Speech Justif‌ications” (1989) 89:1 Columbia Law
Review 119; Eric Barendt, Freedom of Speech, 2d ed (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005) ch 1.
75. Paul Bernal, Internet Privacy Rights: Rights to Protect Autonomy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) at 206.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
of privacy rights,76 under which an individual’s prior decision to speak
to the press about an aspect of their private life could lead to courts
f‌inding they had lost their previous reasonable expectation of privacy.
Such loss could apply to the whole of their personal life (under the
extreme notion of a “blanket waiver”) or just the same broad area (e.g.
sex-life) that they had previously publicised.77 is approach comes close
to treating informational autonomy as a one-of‌f event: the individual
gets to choose once whether to share certain personal information with
a large audience. en precisely because they made that choice, they are
deemed to have lost the right to exercise it later. at approach always
contradicted the premise of the informational autonomy model but it
was one that media organisations successfully persuaded at least some
courts to adopt. But the right to delete inescapably insists on a dif‌ferent
approach, under which the right to control over personal information
is not a one-of‌f, but something that one can exercise continuously; thus,
information one had previously publicised could still be the subject of a
deletion claim. e notion that control is “waived” by self-publicity is
necessarily rejected as incompatible with any meaningful right to delete.
us, RTBF requires a shift in our understanding of informational self-
determination, from being (potentially) a one-of‌f event, whereby control
is exercised, but simultaneously lost for the future, to being instead a
continuing entitlement.
In short, privacy in a socially-networked world is about degrees of
control over information about ourselves and determining the degree and
nature of social interaction with others. If we lose that control we become
76. See e.g. infra, text following note 256; for a critique of the concept of
“waiver” see Gavin Phillipson, “Press Freedom, the Public Interest and
Privacy” in Andrew Kenyon, ed, Comparative Defamation and Privacy
Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2016) at 150. In the US
context, celebrities may be seen to have waived their right to privacy;
thus giving media bodies a claim of “implied consent” to privacy claims
brought against them: see e.g. John P Elwood, “Outing, Privacy and the
First Amendment” (1992) 102:3 Yale Law Journal 747.
77. Known as the “zonal approach”: for examples, see e.g. Douglas v Hello!,
[2003] 3 All ER 996 (CA) at para 226 (sex life) and A v B, [2005]
EWHC 1651 (QB) (drug use).
(2018) 4 CJCCL
“powerless objects available for capture”, a mere “bundle of details,
distortedly known, presumptuously categorised, instantly retrievable,
and transferable to numerous unspecif‌ied parties at any time”’.78 e
right to delete is part of the attempt to re-empower us online; all of us.
Because, unlike classic tort privacy actions, which are typically available
only to the wealthy celebrities who can af‌ford them, RTBF is a remedy
that anybody can use — hundreds of thousands have already.79
III. e Right to be Forgotten: Key Interpretative
A. e Focus of is Article
is article considers RTBF only in relation to what we might broadly
term online expression: by this we include traditional media online, such
as newspaper and news websites, but also social media, search engines,
blogs and all the other now-familiar aspects of Web 2.0. We are not
therefore concerned with relatively uncontroversial aspects of RTBF, such
as requiring the deletion of ordinary commercially-valuable personal data
like contact details from a company whose services we previously used, or
of personal data held by employers or public bodies, like health services
and law-enforcement agencies. Nor, in relation to social media platforms
will we consider what Keller terms “back-end data”, that is, data that
online service providers (OSPs) themselves collect “by tracking their own
users’ online behaviour”80 such as clicks, “likes”, etc., in order to target
advertisements at them. As straightforward commercial data we do not
treat this as an aspect of online expression (though it undoubtedly raises
privacy concerns). Hence, when we discuss RTBF we are concerned only
with its use in respect of data placed online by another individual or
media body, whether the data subject themselves or a third party. Finally,
78. Anne SY Cheung, “Rethinking Public Privacy in the Internet Era: A
Study of Virtual Persecution by the Internet Crowd” (2009) 1:2 Journal
of Media Law 191 at 210. See also Beate Rossler, e Value of Privacy,
translated by RDV Glasgow (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005) at 106.
79. See above, at 3.
80. Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 4.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
we are not concerned with scenarios in which an individual uploads their
own personal information (such as photographs) to a social networking
site like Facebook but retains f‌irst-hand control over it: since they are
at liberty simply to delete it from the site (or even close their account
completely),81 they would not need to invoke Article 17. However, if that
data has subsequently been copied or shared such that it is now beyond
the individual’s control, that takes us into scenarios that we do consider.
B. Article 17 GDPR: e Basics
Article 17 gives the right to “data subjects” (an identif‌iable natural person
to whom information online relates);82 it lies against “data controllers”
— those who “alone or jointly with others, determine the purposes
and means of the processing of personal data”;83 this likely includes,
for example, website hosts, authors of certain web-pages and search
engines.84 “Processing” is very broadly def‌ined and includes “collection …
storage … retrieval … use … disclosure by transmission, dissemination
or otherwise making available”85; hence it plainly encompasses the
publication of personal data online, in whatever form. As discussed at
various points below, the GDPR, in common with the earlier Directive,
af‌fords particular protection to what was previously known as “sensitive
personal data”, now referred to as “special category data” (the former
term will be used as the more intuitive match). is is def‌ined in Article
9(1) as personal data revealing:
racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or
trade union membership, and the processing of genetic data, biometric data for
the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person, data concerning health or
81. See Sophie Curtis, “How to permanently delete your Facebook account”
e Telegraph (19 August 2015), online: e Telegraph .telegraph.
82. GDPR, supra note 1, art 4.
83. Ibid, art 4(4).
84. Google Spain, supra note 4 (the CJEU found that Google was a data
controller; the def‌inition in GDPR, Article 4 is virtually the same as that
considered in Google Spain).
85. GDPR, supra note 1, art 4(2).
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… a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation.86
While Article 9(1) appears baldly to prohibit the processing of such data,
there are broadly worded exceptions; these include the “explicit consent
of the data subject,87 where the data subject has “manifestly made the data
public”88 and where:
processing is necessary for reasons of substantial public interest, on the basis of
Union or Member State law which shall be proportionate to the aim pursued,
respect the essence of the right to data protection and provide for suitable and
specif‌ic measures to safeguard the fundamental rights and the interests of the
data subject.89
e GDPR is a Regulation and, as such, automatically applicable across
all EU states without the need for domestic implementation; however,
its provisions specif‌ically allow for Member States to supplement it
by domestic laws,90 especially to provide exemptions to ensure proper
protection for freedom of expression and information. Article 85(1)
GDPR requires Member States “by law” to “reconcile the right to the
protection of personal data pursuant to this Regulation with the right to
freedom of expression and information”.91 Article 85(2) more specif‌ically
For processing carried out for journalistic purposes or the purpose of academic,
artistic or literary expression, Member States shall provide for exemptions
or derogations from [key provisions of the GDPR] if they are necessary to
reconcile the right to the protection of personal data with the freedom of
86. Ibid, art 9(1).
87. Ibid, art 9(2)(a).
88. Ibid, art 9(2)(e) (we are grateful to David Erdos for pointing out that the
exception actually refers to data “which are manifestly made public” —
the possible signif‌icance of this odd use of the present tense is considered
further below at note 103).
89. GDPR, supra note 1, art 9(2)(g).
90. For a useful summary of these provisions see Daphne Keller, “e
GDPR and National Legislation: Relevant Articles for Private Platform
Adjudication of ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ RequestsInforrm (5 May 2017),
online: Inforrm
91. GDPR, supra note 1, art 85(1).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
expression and information.92
e UK has just passed such legislation,93 the Data Protection Act
201894, which grants sweeping exemptions from the key requirements
of the GDPR and the remedies it grants — including Article 17 — for
processing, including of sensitive personal data, done in pursuit of “the
special purposes”, including journalism.95 Many EU countries, however,
had not passed any such legislation by the time this article went to press;
hence the concrete ef‌fect of the GDPR will probably take many years
to become apparent and considerable variation is likely to be found
amongst the Member States. Since this article concerns the GDPR itself,
rather than law in the UK, only brief mention will be made of the 2018
Act, for illustrative purposes.
Article 17, as material, provides:
(1) e data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the
erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the
controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay
where one of the following grounds applies:
(b) the data subject withdraws consent on which the processing is based
96 and where there is no other legal ground for the processing;
92. Ibid, art 85(2).
93. While the UK has decided to withdraw from the EU and will currently
do so on 29 March 2019, it is legislating so as to retain the vast majority
of currently applicable EU law in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act
2018 (UK), c 16. While the bill specif‌ies certain EU instruments that will
not be retained, the GDPR is not one of them.
94. e Data Protection Act 2018 (UK), c 12 [2018 Act].
95. See below, at 34.
96. GDPR, supra note 1 (the provision refers both to consent under Article
6(1) to the processing of “ordinary personal data” and “explicit consent”
under Article 9(1) to the processing of “sensitive personal data”).
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(c) the data subject objects to the processing pursuant to Article 21(1)97
and there are no overriding legitimate grounds for the processing,
(d) the personal data have been unlawfully processed; …
(f) the personal data have been collected in relation to the of‌fer of
information society services referred to in Article 8(1).98
(3) Paragraphs 1 and 2 shall not apply to the extent that processing is necessary:
(a) for exercising the right of freedom of expression and information …
It also contains a requirement for controllers to inform third parties who
are processing the same data that it has been requested for deletion under
Article 17(2).99 As will be seen, the right is broadly framed, and does
not appear to require any threshold of seriousness to be met in order to
invoke it.100 Given the reference to withdrawing consent, Article 17 may
apply to information initially uploaded by the data subject themselves as
well as that uploaded by a third party. As Recital 65 makes clear:
97. e right to object referred to is objection to processing “necessary for
the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by
a third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests
or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require
protection of personal data, in particular where the data subject is a child”
see GDPR, ibid, art 6(1)(f).
98. is means essentially that the information was collected from a child and
they or their parents consented at the time (children may only consent
from the age of 13 on). “Information society services” are def‌ined as “any
service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by means of
electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression)
and storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a
service” see GDPR, ibid, art 8(1). ey include online shops, streaming
services and social media, see GDPR, ibid, art 4(25).
99. GDPR, ibid, art 17(2) provides: “Where the controller has made the
personal data public and is obliged … to erase [it], the controller, taking
account of available technology and the cost of implementation, shall
take reasonable steps … to inform controllers which are processing the
personal data that the data subject has requested the erasure by such
controllers of any links to, or copy or replication of, those personal data”.
100. As opposed to, for example, a defamation claim brought in English law
under the Defamation Act 2013, (UK) c 26 (see section 1).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
[T]he right is relevant in particular where the data subject has given his or her
consent as a child and is not fully aware of the risks involved by the processing,
and later wants to remove such personal data, especially on the internet. e
data subject should be able to exercise that right notwithstanding the fact that
he or she is no longer a child.101
e ability to use the right to delete in order to leave behind embarrassing
childhood images or posts is one of the more widely-accepted aspects of
RTBF. It should be noted that, in the case of material that was uploaded
by the data subject as an adult, withdrawal of consent grounds a claim
only where the previous consent of the data subject was the sole lawful
basis for processing the data.102 us for “ordinary data”, the controller
could rely instead on their “legitimate interests” (unless overridden by the
privacy interests of the data subject) as a lawful basis for processing. If the
data is “sensitive” within the meaning of Article 9, the controller could
seek to rely on a deliberate decision by the data subject to make the data
public103 in the past, such as posting it to a public website as the basis. If
this condition was found to be made out, then withdrawal of consent per
se would not appear to ground a deletion request.
Finally, and very importantly, Article 17 makes clear that, even where
paragraph (1) is satisf‌ied, the right is only prima facie made out: it must
then be balanced against freedom of expression of either or both of the
data controller and (if the two are not the same) the original poster of the
101. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 65.
102. Ibid, art 17(1)(b).
103. GDPR, ibid, art 9(2)(e). As noted above, supra note 88, the wording of
the GDPR refers to data “which are manifestly made public”. In the UK
context, the 2018 Act, supra note 94, s 86(2) states that the processing
of sensitive personal data “is only lawful” if “at least one condition” from
both Schedule 9 and Schedule 10 is fulf‌illed. In many cases involving
online expression the only likely condition that could be relied on in
Schedule 10 is para 5: “e information contained in the personal data
has been made public as a result of steps deliberately taken by the data
subject” [emphasis added]. Evidently the ef‌fect of the UK legislation here
might be dif‌ferent from the GDPR provision. How this situation would
be resolved in other member states might turn on the particular terms of
their own GDPR legislation.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
data.104 On the face of it, it appears therefore that freedom of expression
could be invoked to refuse deletion as a particular remedy, even where
the data being requested for deletion is being processed unlawfully.
is might arise, for example, where the data requested for deletion is
“sensitive” and there is no legal basis for processing it.105
C. Some Key Interpretive Dilemmas
As noted above, the GDPR leaves a number of extremely important
issues unclear. ree in particular stand out: f‌irst, will private individuals
uploading information about others online be classed as data controllers
and hence subject to RTBF requests? Second, will social media platforms
publishing such third-party content be controllers (often referred to as
the “intermediary liability” issue)? And third, who will benef‌it from the
broad exemption for “journalism”? As these issues are canvassed in detail
elsewhere;106 only a relatively brief account is of‌fered here.
1. Can Individuals Using Social Media be Data
We consider f‌irst the possible liability of individuals. Many might bridle
at the notion that we “process the personal data” of others; however, most
of us do it all the time. A very common scenario involves an individual
104. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(3)(a).
105. We are indebted to David Erdos for pointing this out.
106. On the intermediary liability question see Keller, “Right Tools”, supra
note 5, and Erdos, “Intermediary Publishers”, supra note 6; on the issue of
individuals as possible data controllers see David Erdos, “Beyond ‘Having
a Domestic’? Regulatory Interpretation of European Data Protection Law
and Individual Publication” (2017) 33:3 Computer Law and Security
Review 275 [Erdos, “Domestic”]: Brendan V Alsenoy, “e Evolving
Role of the Individual Under EU Data Protection Law” (2015) CiTiP
Working Paper 23/2015, online:
cfm?abstract_id=2641680>; on the scope of the journalist exemption
see above Erdos, “Domestic” and David Erdos, “From the Scylla of
Restriction to the Charybdis of License? Exploring the Present and Future
Scope of the ‘Special Purposes’ Freedom of Expression Shield in European
Data Protection” (2015) 52:1 Common Market Law Review 119.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
posting a photograph of a friend or family member, often showing the
two of them together. If the post included a comment such as “Annabel
had a bad dose of f‌lu but still looked great!” then the poster has processed
sensitive personal data about another. So, in scenarios like these, will the
poster be counted, at least for some purposes, as a “data controller”? e
so-called “household” exemption in the GDPR is the starting point.
is provides that the Regulation “does not apply to the processing of
personal data by a natural person in the course of a purely personal or
household activity”.107 Recital 18 explains that this means processing
“with no connection to a professional or commercial activity”108 and that
such processing “could include … social networking and online activity
undertaken within the context of such activities”.109 Research by David
Erdos on the attitude of national Data Protection Authorities (“DPAs”)
across the EU showed wide variation in their approach to this issue;
however, a common theme was that a key distinction was to be drawn
between publication to a small, controlled group — likely to fall within
the “household exemption” — and publication to an indef‌inite group,
which would not. As Erdos puts it:
e vast majority [of]… DPAs hold that once personal information relating to
somebody other than the publisher themselves is disseminated to an indef‌inite
number, the personal exemption cannot apply.110
It appears that this is based on the decision of the CJEU in Lindqvist,111
interpreting an almost identical exempting provision in the previous
1995 Data Protection Directive. In that case, the Court said that the
exemption was conf‌ined:
only to activities which are carried out in the course of private or family life of
individuals, which is clearly not the case with the processing of personal data
consisting in publication on the internet so that those data are made accessible
to an indef‌inite number of people.112
107. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 18.
108. Ibid.
109. Ibid [emphasis added].
110. Erdos, “Domestic” supra note 106 at 276.
111. Lindqvist, supra note 20.
112. Ibid at para 47.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
is approach has been echoed by the EU’s Article 29 Working Party
(“Working Party”)113, which in 2013 said: “[i]f a user takes an informed
decision to extend access beyond self-selected ‘friends’, data controller
responsibilities come into force”.114 us under our scenario of posting
a photo of Annabel, the crucial factor would be the privacy settings the
poster was using: provided the photo was posted only to a closed group
of “friends”, the Household exemption would likely apply, meaning the
GDPR would not. However, if it were posted to a public forum — as in
a Facebook post made available to all, or a tweet — then the individual
would become a data controller in respect of that item.
Erdos notes further that some DPAs took a more “stringent
approach” suggesting that, in general, use of others’ personal data on
social networking sites should require data subject consent.115 Conversely,
one of the most permissive DPAs was the UK’s Authority, which said that
the personal exemption would apply:
whenever someone uses an online forum purely in a personal capacity for their
own domestic or recreational purposes; [hence it] will not consider complaints
made against individuals who have posted personal data whilst acting in a
113. Directive, supra note 1, art 29 established a Working Party on the
Protection of Individuals with regard to the Processing of Personal
Data (“the Working Party”). In the f‌irst UK case of a Google Spain-style
delisting that reached the courts, Warby J in the High Court said: “All
parties are agreed that [Guidance by the Working Party on Google Spain]
will be of the greatest use to me in assessing the claims” see NT1 and NT2
v Google, [2018] EWHC 799 (QB) at para 39 [NT1].
114. Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, Opinion 5/2009 on Online
Social Networking, (2009) 01189/09/EN (WP163) at 6. A subsequent
report in 2013 suggested that such a factor should not be determinative
but only be “an important consideration” amongst many see Article 29
Data Protection Working Party, Statement of the Working Party on Current
Discussions Regarding the Data Protection Reform Package, (2013) Annex
2: Proposals for Amendments Regarding Exemption for Personal or
Household Activities at 9; but by 2015 the Working Party had seemingly
returned to advocating only a narrow limitation see Article 29 Data
Protection Working Party, Appendix: Core Topics in View of the Trilogue,
(2015) Annex to the letters at 3.
115. Erdos, “Domestic”, supra note 106 at 286. is group had 11 DPAs
including from Norway, Germany, France, and Belgium.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
personal capacity, no matter how unfair, derogatory or distressing the posts
may be.116
Erdos’s own view suggests a more qualitative analysis whereby:
the interpretation of the personal exemption should be widened to encompass
those forms of individual publication which do not pose a serious prima facie
risk of infringing … the core privacy, reputation and related rights which data
protection is dedicated to safeguard.117
He suggests three situations in which such a risk would be present: (a)
“clearly pejorative posts” (e.g. a student critiquing a particular teacher
by name); (b) “disclosure of private details re private life (especially
if sensitive)” or (c) comments that are “so frequent and focused” that
they amount to harassment.118 We argue below that in making such a
qualitative assessment, guidance from the Strasbourg Court could play
a useful role.
In short then, it is not possible to be sure either about the correct
interpretation of the GDPR in this respect, or the practice of national
DPAs with primary responsibility for enforcing it. It is likely that the
major variations in approach identif‌ied by Erdos will continue for several
years, at least until authoritative and detailed guidance is obtained from
the CJEU or the new European Data Protection Board.119
2. Intermediary Liability
What then of the social media platforms themselves? Keller points out
how a request by another for Twitter to erase a tweet that Keller had
af‌fects at least four key sets of rights: my rights to free expression, [the data
subject’s] rights to Data Protection and privacy, other Internet users’ rights to
116. UK, Information Commissioner’s Of‌f‌ice, Social networking and online
forums – when does the DPA apply? (2014), at 15 online: ICO
117. Erdos, “Domestic”, supra note 106 at 276, 292.
118. Ibid at 292.
119. Established under GDPR, supra note 1, art 68, and tasked with, inter alia,
providing best practice guidance regarding deletion requests see GDPR,
supra note 1, art 71(1)(d).
(2018) 4 CJCCL
seek and access information, and Twitter’s rights as a business.120
It is important to note, that in EU law, the liability of such “hosts” for third
party content that is (for example) in breach of copyright, is governed by
the E-Commerce Directive;121 this, broadly, shields hosts from liability in
respect of such content in the absence of knowledge of its unlawfulness.
However, despite some suggestions to the contrary122 it seems tolerably
clear that this regime will not apply to data protection claims123 and that
the GDPR will. e starting point is GDPR Recital 18, which, having
granted the exemption for “purely personal”, or “household” processing,
immediately goes on: “this Regulation applies to controllers or processors
which provide the means for processing personal data for such personal
or household activities”.124 e Working Party in a recent opinion argued
that both the social networks and the original poster would be data
controllers in relation to material posted by users.125 Erdos thinks it is
clear that social media platforms like Facebook126 will be data controllers;
this would be consistent with the E-Commerce Directive, he contends,
as the primary obligations will be ex-post obligations to remove data once
their attention is drawn to it (including the right to delete). is, he
120. Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 18–19.
121. EC, Directive 2000/31/EC on certain legal aspects of information society
services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market, [2008]
OJ, L-178 [E-Commerce Directive].
122. Especially by Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5.
123. E-Commerce Directive, supra note 121, recital 14, seems decisive here:
“e protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal
data is solely governed by [laws including the 1995 Directive, supra
note 1], which are fully applicable to information society services; these
Directives already establish a Community legal framework in the f‌ield of
personal data and therefore it is not necessary to cover this issue in this
124. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 18.
125. Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, Opinion 1/2010 on the Concepts
of “Controller” and “Processor”, (2010) 00264/10/EN (WP 169) online:
126. Found by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland to be a data controller
under the 1995 Directive, supra note 1 see CG v Facebook Ireland Ltd,
[2016] NICA 54.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
argues, would not fall foul of the prohibition of obligations to engage in
general monitoring in the Directive.127
Keller seeks to avoid the conclusion that, since we know from Google
Spain that search engines are data controllers, platforms like Facebook
must be too. She points out that the f‌inding in Google Spain was justif‌ied
by particular reasoning: that the search engine produces a “structured
overview” of “vast aspects of [the data subject’s] private life … which,
without the search engine, could not have been interconnected or could
have been only with great dif‌f‌iculty”.128 Keller then argues from this that
social media platforms have a lesser impact on an individual’s privacy,
while deleting actual content (instead of merely de-listing it) would
have a greater ef‌fect on freedom of expression; hence this suf‌f‌iciently
distinguishes social media platforms from search engines.129 However,
these arguments are probably best taken as arguing for a higher burden
on those seeking to delete content, rather than merely de-list: she argues
that “it should be harder to get content removed from a hosting platform,
because the balance of rights and interests is dif‌ferent”.130 is is right in
part: in general, removing content as opposed to simply delisting it when
searched under an individual’s name will be a greater interference with
freedom of expression. Moreover (but also only in general) search engines
can have a particularly serious impact on privacy, for the reasons she
gives. e key point, however, is that this would not necessarily always
be the case: as argued below, the extent to which a given piece of online
content compromises a person’s privacy depends upon a multi-factor
assessment, in which perhaps the most important factor is the nature of
the information itself.
Two pairs of examples will illustrate the point. Celebrity A is seeking
to have Google de-link to some mildly embarrassing gossip-journalism
reports about her excessive drinking one evening several years ago.
Celebrity B in contrast wants Facebook to remove a post by an estranged
friend revealing details of B’s past struggles with a serious eating disorder.
127. Erdos, “Intermediary Publishers”, supra note 6.
128. Google Spain, supra note 4 at para 80.
129. Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 36.
130. Ibid at 43 [emphasis in original].
(2018) 4 CJCCL
Here it seems clear that Celebrity B has a far stronger and more serious
privacy claim, not least because her case deals with one of the classes
of sensitive data.131 at then demonstrates that claims against hosts
can raise much more weighty privacy interests than those against search
e second pair of examples considers the freedom of expression side
of the balance. Politician C is seeking, shortly before an election, to have
Google immediately remove from search returns (pending investigation)
links to stories detailing truthful allegations of misconduct during a
previous election.132 Celebrity D is seeking to have topless photographs
hacked from her iCloud account removed from a Tumblr site. In this
case, although D is seeking to have actual content removed and C merely
to have it de-listed, it is clear beyond argument that Google would have
a far stronger claim under the freedom of expression derogation than
Tumblr: political expression is invariably treated by Strasbourg as the
“highest value” speech.133
Keller’s broad-brush comparison of search engines with social media
platforms, therefore, only takes us so far: while the former may in general
pose a greater threat to privacy but have a weaker free speech claim, it
is not hard to generate examples where both propositions are decisively
reversed. e conclusion, therefore, seems clear: in each case, a court or
regulator would have to treat the status of the data controller (search
131. Namely information relating to health see GDPR, supra note 1, art 9(1).
132. An example along these lines is actually used by Keller to show the
potentially draconian ef‌fect of a right to restrict processing under Article
18 (i.e. pulling the item of‌f‌line), pending investigation as to whether e.g.
the data is inaccurate: Keller, “Right Tools”, supra note 5 at 40.
133. See e.g. Von Hannover, supra note 25 (“[t]he Court considers that a
fundamental distinction needs to be made between reporting facts . . .
capable of contributing to a debate in a democratic society, relating to
politicians in the exercise of their functions, for example, and reporting
details of the private life of an individual who … does not exercise of‌f‌icial
functions. While in the former case the press exercises its vital role of
‘watchdog’ in a democracy by contributing to ‘impart[ing] information
and ideas on matters of public interest . . . it does not do so in the latter
case” at para 63).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
engine or host) as but one factor amongst many in weighing the strength
of the RTBF claim.
3. Reliance on the Journalism Exemption or Freedom of
e f‌inal issue concerns the ability of bodies like Facebook, Twitter and
private individuals to claim either the “special purposes” journalism
exemption or their own freedom of expression as a defence to RBTF
claims. As noted above,134 the GDPR provides in Article 85 for Member
States to legislate to provide specif‌ic exemptions for freedom of expression
and the special purposes. e UK’s legislation for this purpose, the Data
Protection Act 2018, provides a sweeping exemption: the requirements of
lawful processing and the other data protection principles, together with
all the key rights of the data subject (including Article 17), do not apply
(2) (a) the processing is being carried out with a view to the publication by
a person of journalistic, academic, artistic or literary material;
(b) the controller reasonably believes that the publication of the material
would be in the public interest;
(3) e listed GDPR provisions do not apply to the extent that the controller
reasonably believes that the application of those provisions would be
incompatible with the special purposes;
(4) In determining whether publication would be in the public interest the
controller must take into account the special importance of the public interest
in the freedom of expression and information.135
is is a very broad exemption,136 though much will depend on its
134. See above, at 23–24.
135. 2018 Act, supra note 94, schedule 2, paras 26(2)–(4).
136. It is in substance the same (with the addition of “academic purposes”) as
the exemption provided in the previous Data Protection Act 1998 (UK), c
29, which implemented the previous Directive, 1995 Directive, supra note
(2018) 4 CJCCL
interpretation.137 e f‌irst question is who will fall within it. In Google
Spain, the CJEU said that “the processing carried out by the operator of a
search engine”138 did not appear to fall within the journalism exemption;
Google was not able to rely on it. e English High Court, in the f‌irst
Google Spain-style case heard in the UK,139 followed this, f‌inding that
Google acts:
for a commercial purpose which, however valuable it may be, is not undertaken
for any of the special purposes, or “with a view to” the publication by others of
journalistic material. Such processing is undertaken for Google’s own purposes
which are of a separate and distinct nature.140
What then of operators like Facebook and Twitter? Notably in Google
Spain, the CJEU, in the same paragraph as that cited above, said that “the
processing by the publisher of a web page consisting in the publication
of information relating to an individual may … be carried out ‘solely for
journalistic purposes’ and thus fall within the journalism exemption”.141
In a more recent decision the CJEU said that activities:
may be classif‌ied as ‘journalistic activities’ if their object is the disclosure to the
public of information, opinions or ideas, irrespective of the medium which is
used to transmit them. ey are not limited to media undertakings and may
be undertaken for prof‌it–making purposes.142
e importance of intermediaries was recognised by the Advocate
General in Google Spain, who said that they “act as bridge builders
between content providers and internet users … ” thus playing a role
that “has been considered as crucial for the information society”.143 Also
137. Courts are likely to follow the interpretation given to the very similar
provision in the 1998 Act: see e.g. Campbell v MGN, [2002] EMLR 30
(CA (Eng)) at para 85, conf‌irming that actual publication of newspapers
(online and in hard copy) as well as processing with a view to publication
falls within the exemption.
138. Google Spain, supra note 4 at para 85.
139. NT1, supra note 113.
140. Ibid at para 100.
141. Google Spain, supra note 4, at para 85.
142. Tietosuojavaltuutettu v Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy,
C-73/07, [2008] ECR I-09831 at para 61.
143. Google Spain, supra note 4 at para 36.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
of relevance here is Recital 153 of the GDPR, which provides:
In order to take account of the importance of the right to freedom of expression
in every democratic society, it is necessary to interpret notions relating to that
freedom, such as journalism, broadly.144
is is in line with the def‌inition of “journalist” given by the Council
of Ministers of the Council of Europe, quoted with approval in a recent
Strasbourg judgment as being “any natural or legal person who [was]
regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination
of information to the public via any means of mass communication”.145
All of the above would appear to support the notion that at least some
content appearing on Facebook, Twitter and the like, could be considered
journalism, even where not published by professional journalists. But
however broadly and f‌lexibly the notion is interpreted it would seem
highly unlikely that it could cover all kinds of content: As the High
Court in the English Google146 case put it:
[T]he concept is not so elastic that it can be stretched to embrace every activity
that has to do with conveying information or opinions. To label all such
activity as “journalism” would be to elide the concept of journalism with that
of communication.147
Erdos notes that many national DPAs hold that the special purposes
derogation “only protects forms of expression undertaken by individuals
which are patently akin to that of professional journalism”.148 Even the
extensive def‌inition of the Council of Ministers just quoted would conf‌ine
it to persons regularly engaged in “the dissemination of information to
the public”.149 is could, for example, include someone who regularly
uses Twitter or Facebook to post information about and comment on
issues of the day; it would not cover someone simply posting pictures of,
e.g., a relative’s baby. Erdos comments that:
In referring to special purposes rather than special actors, [the def‌inition in the
144. GDPR, supra note 1, recital 153 [emphasis added].
145. Satakunnan, supra note 60 at para 118.
146. NT1, supra note 113.
147. Ibid at para 98.
148. Erdos, “Domestic”, supra note 106 at 276.
149. Satakunnan, supra note 60 at para 118.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
GDPR] is not restricted to professional journalists, artists and academic or
non–academic writers but rather is in principle open to everyone (a reality
given emphasis by the CJEU in Satamedia) including private individuals.150
And he argues that:
[T]he GDPR’s apparent removal of the [previous] requirement that processing
be conceptualised as “solely” for the special expressive purposes as well its
general emphasis on construing this clause “broadly” [Recital 153] provides an
opportunity to decisively reject … prioritisation of expression by actors with a
particular professional status.151
He, therefore, concludes that the journalism exemption should cover
“individuals disseminating a message to the collective public”152 but that
it will probably not cover those engaging merely with “self expression
and the “linked general freedom to converse”.153
If this is right, then courts and regulators will, over time, have to
engage in the extremely dif‌f‌icult task of classifying certain content on
Twitter and Facebook as posted for journalistic purposes (e.g. comments
on politics and current af‌fairs), and some as not (e.g. family pictures).
If the content is classif‌ied as falling within the “journalistic purposes”
exemption, there would seem no good reason to hold that the individual
poster can claim the journalism exemption but that the host (Facebook,
Twitter) could not. Even if a court were minded to make this distinction
it would make no dif‌ference in practice: if only the individual poster was
classif‌ied as falling within the journalism exemption, a RTBF claim made
against Facebook, for example, could be resisted on the basis that the
disputed content fell within the purposes of journalism, seen from the
perspective of the original poster.
Finally, even where content is not considered journalism, a host
(or individual user) could still resist an Article 17 request on the basis
that “the processing was necessary for exercising the right of freedom of
expression”154 of the original poster. e CJEU has said consistently, as far
150. Ibid at 289.
151. Ibid at 290.
152. Ibid.
153. Ibid.
154. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(3)(a).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
back as the Lindqvist case, that both data protection authorities and courts
have a duty in certain cases outside of the special purposes exemption to
interpret data protection rules with regard for freedom of expression.155
How far eventual interpretation of the GDPR will privilege journalistic
purposes over the freedom of expression of ordinary members of the
public remains at present a matter of speculation. Much may depend on
the particular legislation introduced by national Parliaments,156 as well as
the policies and guidance of national DPAs. What also remains to be seen
is how far intermediaries like Facebook and Twitter will go in seeking
to defend the freedom of expression of its individual users, given that
the original posters of material will not, seemingly be involved at all in
decisions on whether to remove the content pursuant to deletion requests.
is is something that Keller argues is a major structural problem with
155. Lindqvist, supra note 20 at para 87.
156. e sweeping exemption granted by the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018,
supra note 94, only applies to “special purposes” material, but broader
exemptions to protect freedom of expression and information may
subsequently be introduced by UK Regulation made under section 16.
Section 16(1)(c) gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations for
the purposes of the power in Article 85(2) to provide for exemptions or
derogations from certain parts of the GDPR where necessary to reconcile
the protection of personal data with the freedom of expression and
information. ese will likely be similar to the terms of the previous Data
Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 (UK), 2000
no 417, which the 2018 Act revoked (per Schedule 19).
(2018) 4 CJCCL
RTBF under European data protection law.157
IV. A Possible Role for Article 8 ECHR?
Article 17 is a new and broadly-framed provision and of‌fers little
guidance as to its proper interpretation, in particular how the tension
it creates with freedom of expression, should be resolved. e Working
Party’s guidance on Google Spain said that, “in determining the balance”
between data protection rights and freedom of expression, “the case-
law of the European Court on Human Rights is especially relevant”.158
Hence the remainder of this paper will consider how far the Strasbourg’s
Article 8 privacy jurisprudence may guide interpretation of Article 17, an
analysis not yet attempted in the literature. It will do so by elucidating
principles from that jurisprudence, and considering whether they are
either: (a) applicable to the interpretation of the right to be forgotten; (b)
applicable but with modif‌ication; or (c) inapplicable.
157. Daphne Keller, “e ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ and National Laws Under
the GDPR” Inforrm (4 May 2017), online: Inforrm
the-gdpr-daphne-keller> (Keller discusses in detail a number of serious
issues concerning procedural fairness relating to the handling of RTBF
requests under Article 17: she points out that the original speaker who
provided the content (e.g. the author of a Tweet) will not be represented
during the decision of a host (or search engine) as to whether to remove
(or delist) the content, which, she argues, “puts a very heavy thumb on
the scales against the [speaker]” at para 15. She also points out that, while
data subjects can appeal a refusal to delete to the DPA, and ultimately
to the courts, there are “no public correction mechanism for cases where
Google actually should de-list less [emphasis in original]” (ibid, para 18).
Finally, in “Right Tools”, supra note 5, Keller highlights that in most cases,
online service providers are not even allowed to tell the accused user that
her content has been de-listed or erased. is, she argues, “places the fate
of online expression in the hands of accusers and technology companies
– neither of whom has suf‌f‌icient incentive to stand up for the speaker’s
rights” at para 48).
158. Article 29 Google Spain Guidelines, supra note 6 at 14.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
A. e General Relevance of Strasbourg Case Law
It is clear beyond argument that Strasbourg jurisprudence will be relevant
to the interpretation of the GDPR. Article 52(3) of the EU Charter states
that when Charter and ECHR rights overlap the ECHR’s def‌inition (in
ef‌fect, Strasbourg’s interpretation) of the right should be taken to be
the same as that of the corresponding provision within the Charter.159
In other words Charter rights must be interpreted consistently with
ECHR rights that correspond to them and are thus “complementary”
to the ECHR rights.160 Since the right to privacy in Article 8 ECHR
corresponds with Article 7 of the EU Charter,161 Strasbourg jurisprudence
is directly relevant to the CJEU and European courts’ formulation of
Article 17. is is enhanced by the long-standing inter-court comity
between the CJEU and Strasbourg. Both courts regularly cite each
other’s judgments,162 in many cases the CJEU taking Strasbourg’s more
experienced lead when adjudicating upon fundamental rights.163 Over
the course of the last decade a strong working relationship between the
two courts has been fostered.164Further, the “Bosphorus presumption”,
whereby Strasbourg operates a rebuttable presumption that EU law of‌fers
159. EU Charter, supra note 21, art 52(3); see Wolfgang Weib, “Human Rights
in the EU: Rethinking the Role of the European Convention on Human
Rights After Lisbon” (2011) 7:1 European Constitutional Law Review 64
at 64–67.
160. Tommaso Pavone, “e Past and Future Relationship of the European
Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights: A Functional
Analysis” Social Science Research Network (28 May 2012) at 13, online:
161. EU Charter, supra note 21.
162. Noreen O’Meara, “‘A More Secure Europe of Rights?’ e European
Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union and
EU Accession to the ECHR” (2011) 12:10 German Law Journal 1813 at
163. Pavone, supra note 160 at 1.
164. O’Meara, supra note 162 at 1816. See also Sylvia de Vries, “EU and
ECHR: Conf‌lict or Harmony?” (2013) 9:1 Utrecht Law Review 78 at 79
(it has been said that lines are becoming “increasingly blurred” between
rights protection af‌forded between the ECtHR and the CJEU).
(2018) 4 CJCCL
rights protection at least equivalent to that of the ECHR, shows the
privileged nature of EU law at Strasbourg. Overall, the strong structural
relationship between the two courts165 means that Strasbourg case law
is likely to have a signif‌icant inf‌luence on the interpretation of the EU’s
new data protection framework.
B. How Strasbourg’s Article 8 Jurispr udence Might
Strasbourg has developed the test of whether a claimant had a “reasonable
expectation of privacy” (“REP”) in order to decide Article 8 claims in a
plethora of cases, including Halford v UK,166 PG & JH v UK,167 Peck v
UK,168 Perry v UK169 and more recently Von Hannover v Germany (nos 1,
2 & 3)170 and Lillo-Stenberg and Sæther v Norway.171 In deciding whether
such an expectation arises, Strasbourg uses the factors discussed in Part
V below. If a REP is not established, the claim fails; if it is, the court
proceeds to balance the Article 8 claim against the right to freedom of
expression under Article 10; in doing so it will often return to the same
165. Which will be strengthened further once the planned accession of the
EU to the ECHR goes ahead, as required by the EC, Treaty of Lisbon
Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the
European Community, [2007] OJ, C-306/01, art 6(2). e process is
currently stalled but see e.g. Christina Eckes, “EU Accession to the
ECHR: Between Autonomy and Adaption” (2013) 76:2 Modern
Law Review 254; Tobias Lock, “e Future of the European Union’s
Accession to the European Convention on Human Rights after Opinion
2/13: Is it Still Possible and is it Still Desirable?” (2015) 11:2 European
Constitutional Law Review 239.
166. Halford v United Kingdom, No 20605/92, [1997] 24 EHRR 523.
167. PG and JH v United Kingdom, No 44787/98, [2001] IX ECHR 195
168. Peck v United Kingdom, No 44647/98, [2003] I ECHR 123 [Peck].
169. Perry v United Kingdom, No 63737/00, [2003] IX ECHR 141 [Perry].
170. Von Hannover, supra note 25; Von Hannover v Germany (no 2), No
40660/08 [2012] I ECHR 399 [Von Hannover no 2]; Von Hannover v
Germany (no 3), No 8772/10, [2013] V ECHR 264 [Von Hannover no 3].
171. Lillo-Stenberg and Sæther v Norway, No 13258/09, [2014] ECHR 59
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
factors in order to consider the weight of the privacy claim.172 ere are
several dif‌ferent possibilities as to how courts and regulators in Europe
might use elements of the REP test to guide their interpretation of
Article 17. Dif‌ferent national courts may, at least for some time, produce
dif‌ferent interpretations of this relationship, which will remain until
authoritative guidance is provided by the CJEU or the new EU Data
Protection Board, which will take time. Moreover, given that the GDPR
specif‌ically allows national legislatures to f‌lesh out aspects of the new
regime via national law, there is room for divergent national approaches
to f‌lourish permanently, as indeed happened under the previous EU data
protection scheme.173 ere is also the intriguing possibility of a clash
between the GDPR and the European Convention on Human Rights: a
claim could be brought to the Strasbourg court that a particular ruling
under Article 17 by a national court violates the right to freedom of
expression under Article 10.174
ere are a number of possible approaches that courts and Regulators
might take to the relevance of Strasbourg’s REP test to Article 17. ese
1. Determining that the deletion right only applies where the data
172. See H. Tomás Gómez-Arostegui, “Def‌ining ‘Private Life’ Under Article
8 of the European Convention on Human Rights by Referring to
Reasonable Expectations” (2005) 35:2 California Western International
Law Journal 153, online: CWILJ
173. David Erdos made the f‌irst systematic study of national laws
implementing Directive 95/46 in terms of the protection they provided
for media freedom: see David Erdos, “European Union Data Protection
Law and Media Expression: Fundamentally Of‌f Balance” (2016) 65:1
International and Comparative Law Quarterly 139 (he found “a total lack
of even minimal harmonisation” (abstract) and, in dif‌ferent member states
“outcomes ranging from subjecting the media to entirely inappropriate
peremptory rules to completely eliminating the individual’s substantive
data protection rights when they come into conf‌lict with media
expression” at 180).
174. Satakunnan, supra note 60, concerned such an unsuccessful claim
(although not of course in relation to the GDPR).
(2018) 4 CJCCL
subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy. is would seem
an implausibly restrictive interpretation of Article 17, but one
that media bodies, including social media companies, may seek
to argue before national courts and regulators.
2. Treating the REP test as wholly irrelevant to the right to be
forgotten; given the Working Party’s clear view of the importance
of the Strasbourg jurisprudence175 this seems unlikely.
3. Using the REP factors only in order to reconcile an erasure claim
under Article 17 with the freedom of expression exception.176
4. Using the test or factors from it to assist in determining whether
RTBF would apply only in doubtful or borderline situations,
where the deletion request was particularly contentious in some
way. In particular, consideration of factors derived from the REP
test could help resolve:
the scope of the household exemption;177
in relation to “sensitive” data, whether the individual had
deliberately made it public;178
whether and when hosts should be f‌ixed with liability as
data controllers;179
where the deletion request is made on the basis of the data
subject’s objection to processing being carried out “for
the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the data
controller or a third party”, determining which interests
can be outweighed by “the interests or fundamental rights
and freedoms of the data subject”.180 Factors from the REP
test could help determine how strongly those interests are
175. Above, at 39.
176. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(3)(a).
177. Discussed above, Part III.C.1.
178. GDPR, supra note 1, art 9(2)(e) (such a f‌inding could ground an
alternative basis for processing other than consent — which may be
withdrawn under Article 9).
179. Recalling that in Google Spain, supra note 4, the CJEU decided that
Google should be treated as a data controller partly because of the serious
impact that its activities could have on the data subject’s privacy.
180. GDPR, supra note 1, art 6(1)(f).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
engaged; and
the overall balance of a RTBF request with freedom of
expression and/or the purposes of journalism.
At this point it will be helpful to give examples of dif‌ferent ways in which
personal data may be disseminated online; these may af‌fect the balance
between expression and privacy rights and hence how the principles
employed by the Strasbourg Court in adjudicating Article 8 claims may
apply to the right to erasure.
1. Data Dissemination Scenarios
i. Information concerning a data subject (“A”) is uploaded
by a third party (“B”) without A’s consent (the “third party
Personal data placed online in this manner directly parallels traditional
Article 8 claims considered in the Strasbourg case law. Nearly all its
privacy jurisprudence concerns non-consensual publication of personal
information by a third party, often the press, as in key cases like Von
Hannover181 and a more recent decision in which a celebrity couple
complained of covert photographs of them published by a Norwegian
magazine.182 In such scenarios, Strasbourg principles pertaining to the
weight of the Article 8 claim could be directly “read across” to Article 17
cases. Strasbourg has made clear that the processing of personal data by an
external actor that creates a permanent record of an event is a signif‌icant
consideration in determining whether a REP exists.183 Indeed Strasbourg
has appeared willing to f‌ind a breach of Article 8 in relation to personal
data merely stored by a third party against a subject’s wishes.184 Such
storage will often be a signif‌icantly less serious breach of privacy than the
dissemination of personal data online, as would be the case with a claim
under Article 17 of the GDPR. If European courts take Strasbourg’s lead
181. Von Hannover, supra note 25.
182. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171.
183. PG, supra note 167.
184. Amann v Switzerland, No 27798/95, [2000] II ECHR 245 at para 70.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
in this regard this would tend to give Article 17 a wide ambit.185
ii. A data subject (“A”) made personal data available online; it is
reposted without consent to third party sites and A wishes to
delete it (the “data leak” scenario)
A crucial factor here will be whether the initial posting was (a) to a
restricted forum (e.g. a controlled group of Facebook “friends”); or (b)
to the world at large (e.g. on Twitter or to “the public” on Facebook).186
e Strasbourg case law can be readily used to support an expectation
of privacy in scenario (a), provided that the data subject could not have
reasonably foreseen that the information would be viewed by such a large
audience.187 ere are obvious parallels here with Peck v UK, PG and JH
and Perry. In Peck, stills of a CCTV recording distributed by the local
council of the aftermath of Peck’s suicide attempt on a public street (he
had attempted to cut his wrists) were broadcast on national television.188
Strasbourg held that while Peck would have realised that any passers-by
in the street at the time could have seen him, he could not reasonably
have anticipated that his actions would end up being viewable by a mass
audience.189 Similarly, in both PG and JH and Perry, Strasbourg found
185. However, the situation would be more dif‌f‌icult were B to publish personal
data about A alongside information about themselves, e.g. where B
uploads a photograph onto a social networking site that shows A and
B together. A deletion request would raise a direct conf‌lict between B’s
autonomy (manifested in their expressive act of posting the photo) and
A’s autonomy (manifested in their desire to exercise informational control
over it); see Geof‌frey Gomery, “Whose Autonomy Matters? Reconciling
the Competing Claims of Privacy and Freedom of Expression” (2007)
27:3 Legal Studies 404.
186. As already noted, in the former case, at least the poster of the data might
well not even be treated as a data controller: above, at 28.
187. In the case of Peck, supra note 168, the ECtHR stated that Mr Peck,
who had attempted to commit suicide on a public street, had a partial
expectation of privacy as he could not have reasonably foreseen that the
stills of the CCTV footage of the event would be broadcast on television
and distributed to other police constabularies.
188. Peck, ibid at paras 10–15.
189. Ibid at para 62; Gómez-Arostegui, supra note 172 at 17.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
the existence of an REP due to the fact the claimants’ data had been
processed in more extensive a manner than they could have reasonably
However, the Strasbourg REP test does not naturally apply where
the data subject had initially uploaded the data to a publically accessible
online domain: in such circumstances, Strasbourg would presumably
reason that the claimant should have foreseen that in uploading data
to a public platform he or she was exposing it to an unknown and
hence unlimited amount of users. As such, the claimant would appear
to have voluntarily surrendered control over who accesses the data.191
is reveals a potential tension between the REP test and Article 17.
e former focuses upon the degree of publicity that a claimant could
have reasonably foreseen;192 Article 17 emphasises the importance of a
data subject’s ability to rescind their consent to previous publication of
private data.193 As discussed above, this upholds the ability of a subject
to regain data privacy lost online (even through their own initial act of
publication), rather than focusing only on their expectations at the time
of the initial disclosure: in this way Article 17 treats informational self-
determination as a continuing process.
Despite this dif‌ference, can some common ground be found here? In
Pretty v United Kingdom194 the Court found that the “notion of personal
autonomy is an important principle underlying the interpretation of
190. PG, supra note 167; Perry, supra note 169.
191. In all of the following cases the press made personal information known
without consent: Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171; Von Hannover, supra note
25; Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170; Von Hannover (no 3), supra note
192. Peck, supra note 168; PG, supra note 167; Perry, supra note 169.
193. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(1)(b).
194. Pretty v United Kingdom, No 2346/02, [2002] III ECHR 155.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
its guarantees”.195 As discussed above, the right to delete is designed to
enhance autonomy in its informational form, by af‌fording individuals
greater control over dissemination of their personal data.196 Given that
the application of a conventional REP test would here rob the right to
delete of much of its ef‌fectiveness, it arguably needs some re-working
so as to recognise informational autonomy as a continuing process.197
Rather than European courts using Strasbourg’s REP test to limit the
scope of Article 17 right to delete, it might instead be for Strasbourg
to reconsider the test in light of Article 17 and the changing nature of
privacy in the digital age. e “reasonable expectation” of a user might in
appropriate circumstances be said to encompass the ability to rescind a
former publication of private data. It should be recalled that if this were
accepted, this would only ground a prima facie claim for deletion:198 it
would then have to be balanced against freedom of expression under
Article 17(3)(a).
195. Ibid at para 61; see also Begüm Bulak and Alain Zysset, “‘Personal
Autonomy’ and ‘Democratic Society’ at the European Court of
Human Rights: Friends or Foes?” (2013) 2:1 UCL Journal of Law and
Jurisprudence 230. Althaf Marsoof, “Online Social Networking and
the Right to Privacy: e Conf‌licting Rights of Privacy and Expression
(2011) 19:2 International Journal of Law and Information 110.
196. Reding, supra note 27.
197. Above, at 19–20.
198. Which itself would only apply where withdrawal of consent per se
grounded an Article 7 claim: see above, at 25–26.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
V. Factors Going to the Weight of the Article 8
Claim and eir Possible Application to RTBF
A. e Nature of the Information
Strasbourg has previously found that bodily integrity,199 sexuality,200
family grief,201 personal identity202 and personal information203 are all
aspects of private life under Article 8. In general it has stressed that
the more intimate the personal data disclosed, the stronger the claim
to privacy will be.204 An individual’s sexual or romantic life is viewed
as particularly sensitive and thus an important aspect of their private
life.205 For example, in Avram v Moldova, women were secretly f‌ilmed
by the police frolicking in a sauna with male police of‌f‌icers in a state of
partial undress and the footage later passed to local television stations
and broadcast. Strasbourg found a breach of Article 8, stressing that
an individual’s sexual and romantic life should be free from unwanted
observation by others.206
One area of uncertainty here is the approach taken to “intimate”
information. What is considered intimate can vary, depending upon
199. X and Y v e Netherlands, No 8978/80, [1985] 8 EHRR 235; see also
Lorenc Danaj and Aleks Prifti, “Respect for Privacy from the Strasbourg
Perspective” (2012) 2012:5 Academicus: International Scientif‌ic Journal
200. ADT v United Kingdom, No 35765/97, [2000] IX ECHR 295.
201. Pannullo and Forte v France, No 37794/97, [2001] X ECHR 279.
202. Van Kück v Germany, No 35968/97, [2003] VII ECHR 1.
203. Smirnova v Russia, No 46133/99, [2003] IX ECHR 241.
204. Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170; Von Hannover (no 3), supra note
205. See e.g. Dudgeon v United Kingdom, No 7525/76, [1981] 4 EHRR 149;
and Gómez-Arostegui, supra note 172 at 6.
206. Avram v Moldova, No 41588/05 (5 July 2011) [Avram]; Dirk Voorhoof,
“European Court of Human Rights: Avram and other v Moldova” (2012)
1:1 Iris: Legal Observations of the European Audiovisual Observatory 1.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
factors such as culture, religion, gender, age and personality type.207 It
is also fact-sensitive: while Strasbourg generally views data concerning
an individual’s romantic life as peculiarly intimate, in Lillo-Stenberg v
Norway it held that a wedding was not necessarily a private occasion.208
As noted above, while Article 17 covers all personal data, the GDPR
specif‌ies certain categories as particularly sensitive (above, at 22–23).
ese should, however, be applied with a degree of f‌lexibility, especially
when assessing unusual or complex claims. At the national level this
may depend upon what specif‌ic provision Member States make to allow
freedom of expression claims to outweigh the prohibition on processing
personal data.209 Article 17 itself does not distinguish between sensitive
and ordinary data, in providing that deletion requests may be refused
where necessary “for exercising the right of freedom of expression”,210 but
even when engaging in this kind of “pure” balancing act, courts are likely
to f‌ind that, as the Working Party put it:
As a general rule, sensitive data … has a greater impact on the data subject’s
private life than ‘ordinary’ personal data. A good example would be information
about a person’s health, sexuality or religious beliefs. DPAs are more likely to
intervene when de-listing requests are refused in respect of search results that
reveal such information to the public.211
Following this approach, domestic courts may seek to f‌ind ways of
avoiding automatic consequences that may f‌low from the classif‌ication
of data as “sensitive”. As Lady Hale said in the leading privacy decision
of Campbell v MGN Ltd,212 while medical information relating to health
is generally considered obviously private, “[t]he privacy interest in the
fact that a public f‌igure has a cold or a broken leg is unlikely to be strong
enough to justify restricting the press’s freedom to report it. What harm
207. Chris Hunt, “Conceptualizing Privacy and Elucidating its Importance:
Foundational Considerations for the Development of Canada’s Fledgling
Privacy Tort” (2011) 37:1 Queen’s Law Journal 167 at 197–200.
208. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 170 at para 37.
209. See the example of provisions in the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018, supra
note 156.
210. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(3)(a).
211. Article 29 Google Spain Guidelines, supra note 6 at 17 [emphasis added].
212. Campbell, supra note 63.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
could it possibly do”?213 We suggest that courts taking this more f‌lexible,
fact-sensitive approach should employ a mixed objective-subjective test,
relying upon a mixture of cultural and contextual factors. ese could
include an examination of what information may normally be considered
intimate for someone of the same age or religion, as well as an examination
of a subject’s personal sensitivities: for example, a person who had had
gender reassignment surgery would likely be particularly sensitive about
a photograph circulating that showed them as their previous gender.214
B. e Form of the Information: Images or Text?
When assessing the strength of Article 8 claims, Strasbourg may take
into account the form in which the personal data is disclosed — such as
photographs, sound recordings or written text.215 us “privacy may be
thought of as being domain specif‌ic”.216 Strasbourg has treated privacy
rights relating to photographs as particularly signif‌icant: as Gomery
observes, “it has become plain that the courts treat images of a person
in a public space dif‌ferently than they would a description of the person
in the same place because a photograph may make a data subject clearly
‘identif‌iable’”.217 As Marsoof comments in relation to the English decision
in Douglas v Hello!:218
213. Ibid at 157.
214. See Hunt, supra note 207 at 197–99 arguing that both individual
sensitivities and cultural or community norms need to be considered.
On privacy as particularly engaging certain types of information bearing
on an individual’s reputation and therefore their dignity, see generally
Ruth Gavison, “Privacy and the Limits of the Law” (1980) 89:3 Yale Law
Journal 421 at 457; Robert Post, “ree Concepts of Privacy” (2000)
89:6 Georgetown Law Journal 2087; Robert Gerstein, “Intimacy and
Privacy” in Ferdinand Schoeman, ed, Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 266 at 270; and David
Hughes, “Two Concepts of Privacy” (2015) 31:4 Computer Law &
Security Review 527 at 534.
215. See Gomery, supra note 185 at 427.
216. Marsoof, supra note 195 at 129.
217. Gomery, supra note 185 at 427 [emphasis added].
218. [2006] QB 125 (UK) citing Douglas v Hello!, supra note 77 at para 106.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
the unauthorised publication of photographs has been condemned more
forcefully than other forms of privacy leaks. In Douglas v Hello! it was observed
that “[a] photograph can certainly capture every detail of a momentary event
in a way which words cannot, but a photograph can do more than that. A
personal photograph can portray, not necessarily accurately, the personality
and the mood of the subject of the photograph.”219
Similarly, in Von Hannover v Germany (no 2),220 Strasbourg said:
[A] person’s image constitutes one of the chief attributes of his or her
personality, as it reveals the person’s unique characteristics and distinguishes
the person from his or her peers. e right to the protection of one’s image is
thus one of the essential components of personal development.221
Article 17 does not refer to particular forms of personal data but it
appears likely that many individuals will wish to use it to delete online
photographs of themselves. Stories abound of online photographs having
a subsequent detrimental impact on a person’s private life or their career.222
However other forms of personal data accessible online, including text,
also have the potential to be signif‌icantly detrimental to a data subject’s
privacy or reputation, especially if they describe intimate details of, for
example, their sex life. Hence courts and regulators should undertake a
f‌lexible approach on a case-by-case basis when deciding upon deletion
requests. It may often be the case that the content of the data and the
repercussions of its open accessibility on the data subject are more
important than its form.
219. Marsoof, supra note 195 at 129.
220. Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170.
221. Ibid at para 96.
222. Daniel Bean, “11 Brutal Reminders at You Can and Will Get Fired
for What You Post on Facebook” Yahoo (6 May 2014), online: Yahoo
will-get-f‌ired-for-84931050659.html>. See e.g. “Teacher sacked for
posting picture of herself holding glass of wine and mug of beer on
Facebook” e Daily Mail Online (7 February 2011), online: e Daily
Mail Online
posting-picture-holding-glass-wine-mug-beer-Facebook.html> (schoolteacher
Ashley Payne’s employment was terminated due to photographs of her on
Facebook, showing her drinking alcohol on holiday).
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
C. Is the Data Subject a Public Figure?
1. e Importance of the “Public Figure” Criterion.
One of the most important factors used by courts and regulators in
assessing privacy claims is whether the claimant is a “public f‌igure”. In
Google Spain the CJEU said that the legitimate interest of the public
in having information available on social networks “may vary, in
particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life”.223
In its commentary on the decision, the Working Party said: “there may
be information about public f‌igures that is genuinely private and that
should not normally appear in search results, for example information
about their health or family members”.224 But it went on:
[A]s a rule of thumb, if applicants are public f‌igures, and the information in
question does not constitute genuinely private information, there will be a
stronger argument against de-listing search results relating to them.225
e English High Court, when applying Google Spain domestically,
found this criterion, of “playing a role in public life” to be
“broader” than the notion of being a public f‌igure like a politician
or sportsperson.226 But the notion that the Working Party meant to
postulate the widest possible approach to the concept of public f‌igure
seems doubtful. In particular, their explanation that, “[a] good rule of
thumb is to try to decide where the public having access to the particular
information … would protect them against improper public or
professional conduct”,227suggests that the fact that a given celebrity was
well known to the public would be less important than whether knowing
the information in question could protect the public against improper
conduct on their part. Given that members of the public are generally
not af‌fected by the way in which celebrities behave in their private lives
this may suggest a more restricted approach. is is supported further by
223. Google Spain, supra note 4 at para 81 [emphasis added].
224. Article 29 Google Spain Guidelines, supra note 6 at 14.
225. Ibid at 14.
226. NT1, supra note 113 at para 137.
227. Article 29 Google Spain Guidelines, supra note 6 at 13.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
the Working Party’s guidance that:
[t]here is a basic distinction between a person’s private life and their public or
professional persona. e availability of information in a search result becomes
more acceptable the less it reveals about a person’s private life.228
In sum, the view of the Working Party would seem to point away from
the notion that a celebrity, for example, has a reduced expectation of
privacy in relation to information concerning core areas of their private
life, such as their sex-life, family matters or health, simply by virtue of
their fame.
In strong contrast, it appears that Google, when deciding RTBF
requests to date, treats “public f‌igure” as meaning simply “someone
recognised at national or international level”, something it decides simply
by “a search of relevant URLs or names”.229 e problem with this is that
fame can bear no relationship to importance. An extreme and notorious
example is the overweight 16-year-old boy who became known as “Little
Fatty”: a picture taken of him in the street by chance went viral in Asia
with “hit” rates in the tens of millions and eventual coverage in Reuters
and the Independent.230 Clearly this boy would (at least at the time)
have f‌itted Google’s def‌inition of a “public f‌igure”, since he would be
recognised at national and international level. But if this is the case then
the notion of “public f‌igure” risks becoming completely un-tethered from
any links it once had with the notion of a legitimate public interest in the
persons’ doings, as with a politician or public of‌f‌icial. It also suggests that
one basis for making someone a legitimate target for public attention is
simply that in the past they have attracted public attention. Under this
approach the media — and indeed ordinary internet users — can reduce
a person’s expectation of privacy simply by constantly intruding into their
privacy. In such circumstances, the very person who needs privacy most
— because they are constantly suf‌fering from intrusion — is granted less
of it, because of the very attention they are seeking to escape. It may be
that this issue will not arise in the large majority of RTBF requests — a
228. Ibid [emphasis in original].
229. Brock, supra note 16 at 51.
230. Cheung, supra note 78.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
recent study found that fewer than 5% of delisting requests under Google
Spain concerned “criminal, politicians or high-prof‌ile public f‌igures” 231
— but it is important nonetheless.
2. Strasbourg’s Approach to “Public Figures”
e position of the Strasbourg Court in relation to the right to privacy
of public f‌igures and celebrities is unclear. e Court has certainly been
prepared to f‌ind that celebrities and public f‌igures still have rights to
privacy: Princess Caroline of Monaco won her f‌irst case at Strasbourg
despite the f‌inding by the German Constitutional Court that she was a
“public f‌igure par excellence”232 — a f‌inding that led the German courts to
hold that she had to tolerate being constantly followed and photographed
by paparazzo as she went about her daily life. Strasbourg found that the
partial denial by German law of a remedy for such constant intrusive
publicity breached Article 8.233 In Lillo-Stenberg v Norway, Strasbourg
reiterated that:
in certain circumstances, even where a person is known to the general public,
he or she may rely on a “legitimate expectation” of protection of and respect
for his or her private life.234
However, Strasbourg does appear to regard a person’s public f‌igure status
as reducing their expectation of privacy. us, in Von Hannover (no 2)
the Grand Chamber said that, “[Princess Caroline] and her partner, who
are undeniably very well known, [cannot be viewed as] ordinary private
individuals. ey must, on the contrary, be regarded as public f‌igures”,235
and hence af‌forded a somewhat reduced expectation of privacy. It is
notable that the reason the Court gave for this f‌inding was not that
Princess Caroline is a member of a royal family, or that she performs
of‌f‌icial functions (she does not) but simply because of her celebrity
231. Brock, supra note 16 at 51, citing Google, “Transparency Report: Search
Removals Under European Privacy LawGoogle (2018), online: Google
232. Von Hannover, supra note 25 at paras 19–21.
233. Ibid.
234. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171 at para 97.
235. Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170 at para 120.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
status. Similarly, in Axel Springer,236 the claimant “X” was well known to
the public because he played one of the main characters in a popular TV
series. e Grand Chamber judgment remarked:
[T]hat role was, moreover, that of a police superintendent, whose mission was
law enforcement and crime prevention. at fact was such as to increase the
public’s interest in being informed of X’s arrest for a criminal of‌fence. Having
regard to those factors and to the terms employed by the domestic courts in
assessing the degree to which X was known to the public, the Court considers
that he was suf‌f‌iciently well known to qualify as a public f‌igure. at consideration
thus reinforces the public’s interest in being informed of X’s arrest and of the
criminal proceedings against him.237
Furthermore, despite Strasbourg’s comments (above) in Lillo-Stenberg v
Norway, it ultimately found that the couple in question did not have a
right to privacy in respect of covert photographs taken of their wedding
— partly because they were celebrities.238 Such cases appear to show
Strasbourg f‌inding public f‌igure status not because of the signif‌icance of
the claimant’s role in public life, but simply on the basis that they are well
known to the public. While in the recent Grand Chamber decision in
Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France239 the Court appeared in
places to row back on this, commenting that “the right of public f‌igures
to keep their private life secret is, in principle, wider where they do not
hold any of‌f‌icial functions”,240 other parts of the judgment deny any such
a distinction. us the Court immediately added that the principle that
politicians “lay themselves open to close scrutiny of their every word and
deed by both journalists and the public at large … applies not only to
politicians, but to every person who is part of the public sphere, whether
through their actions or their position”.241 e Court conf‌irmed this
approach in a passage that starts by asserting that “exercising a public
function or of aspiring to political of‌f‌ice” exposes one to greater public
236. Axel Springer AG v Germany, No 39954/08, [2012] ECHR 227 [Axel
237. Ibid at para 99 [emphasis added].
238. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171.
239. Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v France, No 40454/07, [2015]
ECHR 992.
240. Ibid at para 119.
241. Ibid at para 121 [emphasis added].
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
scrutiny, but then adds immediately that “certain private actions by
public f‌igures cannot be regarded as such, given their potential impact in
view of the role played by those persons on the political or social scene242
— apparently equating the roles of celebrities with politicians and public
of‌f‌icials. Strasbourg’s notion of “public f‌igure” thus now extends well
beyond politicians and others exercising real public power, to encompass
those who are simply famous, for whatever reason. In particular, in Von
Hannover (no 2) and Axel Springer, Strasbourg appeared to use “public
f‌igure” to mean simply a person in whose doings the public are interested.
Used in this way, the public f‌igure doctrine means that the right to privacy
is sharply reduced by reference simply to public curiosity; the supposedly
sacrosanct distinction between the public interest and what interests the
public thus comes close to being (indirectly) collapsed.
3. Conceptual Problems with the “Public Figure”
ere is, however, a deeper problem with placing reliance on “public
f‌igure” status as a reason for reducing a person’s prima facie expectation
of privacy:243 the concept is inherently analytically imprecise and hence
not conducive of clear judicial reasoning. It acts as a relatively crude and
generalised proxy for three more precise arguments that by their nature
should be fact-sensitive.244 e f‌irst is that aspects of the lives of some well-
known people may become so widely publicised that they can no longer
meaningfully be considered private. Quite evidently, this is no more
than an unhelpful generalization. It clearly will not always be the case
and cannot be decided in advance of examining the particular situation
before the court. Nevertheless, a softened version of this argument —
that being well known to the public per se diminishes one’s reasonable
242. Ibid at para 120 [emphasis added].
243. e following two paragraphs draw brief‌ly on Phillipson, supra note 76.
244. e three arguments correspond to those advanced by Dean Prosser in his
classic exposition of the US privacy torts, see William L Prosser, “Privacy”
(1960) 48:3 California Law Review 383, discussed and applied in the
leading New Zealand decision, Hoskings v Runting, [2005] 1 NZLR 1 at
para 120.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
expectation of privacy — captures exactly Strasbourg’s current approach.
e second argument is that public f‌igures may reasonably be considered
to have consented to publicity about their private life, or “waived” their
right to privacy. Such a contention makes two mistakes: f‌irst, it assumes
that all public f‌igures seek publicity voluntarily — which is by no means
the case — and second, it draws no distinction between seeking publicity
for one’s private life, and seeking publicity in relation to one’s vocation,
surely an elementary distinction.
e third argument is that there is a degree of legitimate public
interest in aspects of the private lives of public f‌igures, as, for example,
in the case of philandering politicians. is, however, is not a reason for
reducing the scope of the protection given to public f‌igures, but rather a
description of a countervailing consideration, to be weighed in the balance
against their right to protection for privacy. Even put in those terms it is
f‌lawed, because it again amounts to an unhelpful generalization: whether
there is a legitimate public interest in the life of the public f‌igure will
depend upon the nature of the information in question, their role in
public life and whether the information contributes signif‌icantly to an
important public debate.
us far more analytical clarity can be obtained by asking each of
the above questions separately and in a highly fact-sensitive way. e f‌irst
question then turns into a distinct enquiry as to whether the information
in question is already in the public domain; in that regard, the Grand
Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has recently remarked: “[t]he fact
that information is already in the public domain will not necessarily
remove the protection of Article 8 of the Convention”.245 e second
question is whether the public f‌igure has waived their right to privacy
by, for example, deliberately making an aspect of it public — this is
considered as a separate factor in the next section. e third question
falls outside the scope of this article as it concerns, not the expectation of
privacy of the data subject, but the countervailing freedom of expression
of the publisher of the data. us, the better approach would take note
of public f‌igure status only as a way of deciding whether to move on
245. Satakunnan, supra note 60 at para 134.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
to considering any of the above three distinct issues. is would be a
considerably more structured and sophisticated methodology — and one
that avoids lumping together in one category politicians and pop stars,
central bankers and footballers.
In this area then, it is suggested that reference to Strasbourg’s “public
f‌igure” jurisprudence when considering RTBF is more likely to confuse
than assist. e ability to keep certain aspects of one’s life private is an
important facet of personal autonomy and human dignity to which
all individuals are prima facie entitled;246 the approach suggested above
upholds that principle while allowing for sensible exceptions based upon
specif‌ic consequences that may f‌low from public f‌igure status.
D. Prior Conduct of the Person Concerned as Waiving
eir Right to Privacy
e Working Party’s guidance on Google Spain suggests considering
whether the content had been “voluntarily made public” by the data
subject or whether at least they might reasonably have foreseen that it
“would be made public”.247 Strasbourg has looked more broadly at the
“prior conduct” of an individual in terms of either shunning or soliciting
publicity when evaluating the strength of Article 8 claims.248 In terms of
the former there is some evidence of Strasbourg treating an individual’s
previous attempts to shield themselves from intrusion as strengthening
their Article 8 claim. In Von Hannover v Germany (no 3),249 the Court
acknowledged Princess Caroline’s ef‌forts to keep her private life out of
the press as a relevant factor (although on the facts suf‌f‌iciently considered
246. See e.g. Campbell, supra note 63, upholding in part the privacy claim
of the supermodel Naomi Campbell; Gavin Phillipson, “Transforming
Breach of Conf‌idence? Towards a Common Law Right of Privacy under
the Human Rights Act” (2003) 66:5 Modern Law Review 726; Gewirtz,
supra note 58 at 181–82.
247. Article 29 Google Spain Guidelines, supra note 6 at 19.
248. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171; Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170; Von
Hannover, supra note 25.
249. Von Hannover (no 3), supra note 170.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
by the German courts).250 Similarly, in the f‌irst Von Hannover case, an
important factor was that Princess Caroline had made considerable
ef‌forts to shield herself from the public eye.251 In the case of an ordinary
person, the element of constant media interest would of course be absent;
however the basic factor of the individual’s evidenced desire for a degree
of privacy could be read across to an Article 17 claim in our “data leak”
scenario: where the initial upload was to a restricted website (for example,
viewable only to a small group of “friends” on Facebook), this “prior
conduct” could be argued to evince a desire for a degree of privacy in
respect of the data, which should lend weight to a deletion request.
e other side of the coin is situations in which an individual has
appeared previously to court publicity for their private life, a situation
which many courts f‌ind counts against an expectation of privacy.252 In
Axel Springer the Strasbourg court found that:
[t]he conduct of the person concerned prior to publication of the report or the
fact that the photo and the related information have already appeared in an
earlier publication are also factors to be taken into consideration … However,
the mere fact of having cooperated with the press on previous occasions cannot
serve as an argument for depriving the party concerned of all protection against
publication of the report or photo at issue.253
e Court’s statement that previous conduct of an individual amounting
to solicitation of the press would not deprive a data subject of all privacy
rights implies that such conduct would act only to partially reduce an
expectation of privacy. As one of us has previously noted, this statement
“is of little comfort to privacy advocates” since all it does is rule out the
250. Ibid at para 55.
251. Von Hannover, supra note 25 at paras 68, 74 (the Court noted that, of the
complained-of photos, one showed Caroline dining in a secluded place (a
corner of a restaurant) and another her relaxing within a private members’
252. eakston v MGN Limited, [2002] EWHC 137 (QB) (Ouseley J said
that since eakston, a TV presenter, “has courted publicity  and not
complained at it when, hitherto, it has been very largely favourable to
him … he cannot complain if publicity given to his sexual activities is less
favourable in this case” at para 68).
253. Axel Springer, supra note 236 at para 92 [emphasis added].
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
extreme (and implausible) “blanket” version of waiver, in which any prior
disclosures to the press negate all protection for private life.254 Moreover,
Strasbourg went on to f‌ind that as the claimant, a television actor, had
previously given interviews and in doing so revealed certain details about
his personal life, his reasonable expectation of privacy (and in turn the
strength of a claim he could bring under Article 8) had been reduced:
In the Court’s view, he had therefore actively sought the limelight, so that,
having regard to the degree to which he was known to the public, his
“legitimate expectation” that his private life would be ef‌fectively protected was
henceforth reduced.255
Notably the judgement did not explain why the claimant’s previous
choice to reveal certain select details about his personal life led to his
reasonable expectation of privacy being reduced with respect to other
personal data which he had not voluntarily disclosed.256
Under this approach it would appear that a data subject who had
initially uploaded personal information to an openly accessible platform
online and subsequently wished to remove it (perhaps after it was been
posted to third party sites) might be treated as having partially waived
their right to privacy. e case would also depend on whether the sole
ground that the defendant had to justify processing was consent. Where
this is the case, a deletion request can be based simply on revocation of
consent.257 How this will be considered where the initial consent was to
what we might term “fully public” processing — that is, publication “to
the world” on a public website, remains unclear. e circumstances of
the original uploading could be considered in the overall balance with
freedom of expression. In such circumstances, courts and regulators
could consider, for example, whether the information had been put
online when the data subject was signif‌icantly younger258 or at a dif‌ferent
254. Phillipson, supra note 76 at 151.
255. Axel Springer, supra note 236 at para 101 [emphasis added].
256. Phillipson, supra note 76 at 150–51.
257. GDPR, supra note 1, art 17(1)(b); see above, at 25–26.
258. e GDPR expressly contemplates the special importance of being able
to delete information placed online when the data subject was a child: see
GDPR, supra note 1, recital 38, above at 25–26.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
stage of their life in terms of personal life or career. It could be asked
whether the data subject now has particularly pressing reasons for
wanting to delete the information, as where a graduate was seeking to
remove pictures of themselves behaving raucously at university parties
because they were now seeking professional employment.259 At worst, the
Strasbourg “waiver” approach could be read across even to a data subject
seeking the deletion of personal information published by a third party; if
so, the claimant could have their privacy claim deemed weaker by virtue
of previously having voluntarily disclosed dif‌ferent personal information
However this notion that a voluntary disclosure of private
information prevents an individual from being able to complain about
an involuntary disclosure is wholly incompatible with the core value of the
individual’s right to control over the release of personal information.260 All
of us exercise this right to selective disclosure in our social lives: we may
tell one friend an intimate secret and not another; at times be open, at
others more reticent. But someone who is shown a friend’s personal letter
on one occasion does not assume that they have thereby acquired the
right to read, uninvited, all other such letters. In other words, to suggest
that public f‌igures should be treated as barred from complaining about
publicity that is unwanted and intrusive now, because they had previously
sought it, would deny them the very control over personal information
that is inherent in the notion of personal autonomy: previous disclosures
should be treated not as an abandonment of the right to privacy, but an
exercise of it.261 As suggested above, the advent of a substantive RTBF
is a chance to re-conceptualise the notion of control over personal
information as a continuing rather than a one-of‌f event. Here it is to be
259. See e.g. Alan Henry, “How You’re Unknowingly Embarrassing Yourself
Online (and How to Stop)” LifeHacker (5 October 2013), online:
without-knowing-495859415>; Solove, “Speech, Privacy”, supra note 37
at 17.
260. Phillipson, supra note 76 at 150 (we draw brief‌ly on this work in the
paragraph that follows).
261. See e.g. Nissenbaum, supra note 58; Reiman, supra note 72.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
hoped that the RTBF will inf‌luence Strasbourg, rather than the other
way around.
E. Circumstances in Which the Information Was
In Lillo-Stenberg v Norway, the Court emphasised the importance of
considering the way in which intrusive photographs were captured,
commenting, “the situation would have been dif‌ferent if the photographs
had been of events taking place in a closed area, where the subjects had
reason to believe that they were unobserved”.262 us a claimant’s lack
of knowledge that photographs may be taken appears to be a factor
going to the weight of an Article 8 claim.263 In the f‌irst Von Hannover
case, the Court observed that one particular, rather undignif‌ied, image
of the Princess falling over at a private beach club was “taken secretly
at a distance of several hundred metres, probably from a neighbouring
house, whereas journalists’ and photographers’ access to the club was
strictly regulated”.264 e Court also considered the frequency with
which photographs were being taken and published, noting that “photos
appearing in the tabloid press are often taken in a climate of continual
harassment which induces in the person concerned a very strong sense of
intrusion into their private life or even of persecution”.265
is factor is easily read across to our “third party scenario”, since
it is in essence much the same as the large number of cases Strasbourg
has considered in which the personal data is initially gathered by a third
party (the press) and then disseminated to a mass audience. e fact that
the individual had made no disclosure of the data at all would surely add
strength to their Article 17 claim. In the “data leak” scenario, where the
initial upload was given only restricted access e.g. to Facebook “friends”,
and the leak to public platforms occurred without notice or consent,
it would be easier to draw parallels with the notion of surreptitious
262. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171 at para 39.
263. Von Hannover, supra note 25 at para 68.
264. Ibid at para 68.
265. Ibid at para 59 [emphasis added].
(2018) 4 CJCCL
gathering, thus strengthening the privacy side of the scales. Here an
analogy could be drawn with cases like Peck and Von Hannover: just as
individuals appearing in public places accept that they will be subject to
casual observations by passers-by, but do not accept the risk of this being
converted, by press coverage into essentially mass-observation, so those
uploading pictures to be seen only by “friends” would not anticipate
the far greater coverage that would result if the information leaks to
publically-available sites.
As noted above, this argument becomes harder where the initial
upload was to a publically accessible website: it could then be argued
that the data subject should have foreseen subsequent greater publicity,
though this might depend on the scale and intrusiveness of that publicity.
If the further dissemination was of such a scale or nature as to amount to
harassment, parallels could be drawn to the circumstances surrounding
photographs captured of Princess Caroline in Von Hannover v Germany.266
Finally there is the scenario in which personal information had been
uploaded to an openly accessible website but on an anonymous basis,
only for the data subject to be later identif‌ied against their wishes. Courts
and regulators should take a context-sensitive approach here, recognising
the key expressive value in being able to “share privately”.267
F. Does the Personal Data Relate to a Public or Private
Several Strasbourg cases focus upon the physical location in which
personal data was obtained in deciding whether it warrants protection
under Article 8.268 A claim to privacy in respect of a photograph taken
in a public street is less likely to attract Article 8 protection than if
the subject of the picture was in a private dwelling.269 Lillo-Stenberg v
266. Von Hannover, supra note 25.
267. See e Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd, [2009] EWHC 1358
(QB) for a case that failed to recognize the importance of this value; the
notion of “sharing privately” comes from Mills, supra note 35.
268. Von Hannover, supra note 25; Von Hannover (no 2), supra note 170; Peck,
supra note 168.
269. See e.g. Lillo-Stenberg, supra note 171.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
Norway concerned photos of a wedding of a celebrity couple who had
married outdoors on a publically accessible islet.270 Strasbourg upheld
that Icelandic court’s judgment that Article 10 should prevail over the
couple’s Article 8 claim to bar publication of the photos, partly because
it was an outdoor wedding taking place in a public place and holiday
However other cases show a more nuanced approach. In Pfeifer v
Austria272 Strasbourg said that Article 8 encompasses “a person’s physical
and psychological integrity”.273 When attempting to def‌ine the scope
of the right to privacy in Niemietz v Germany,274 the Court said that
“it would be too restrictive to limit the notion to an ‘inner circle’ in
which the individual may live his own personal life as he chooses and
to exclude there entirely the outside world”,275 seemingly advocating a
f‌lexible reading of what a private zone could encompass.276 However, the
key case here is the seminal Von Hannover v Germany277 in which the
Court stressed “there is … a zone of interaction … with others, even in
a public context, which may fall within the scope of ‘private life’”.278 e
German courts had held that photographs taken in a physically public
location of someone they considered a public f‌igure par excellence must
be tolerated; the only exceptions were images showing Princess Caroline
with her children or in a “secluded place”, such as a quiet corner of a
restaurant. Strasbourg disagreed, f‌inding that this “secluded place” test
was unacceptably narrow; the images depicting Princess Caroline in a
public place deserved protection under Article 8 as they gave viewers an
270. Ibid at paras 5–8.
271. Ibid at paras 39–44.
272. Pfeifer v Austria, No 24733/04, [2011] ECHR 328.
273. Ibid; Bulak & Zysset, supra note 195 at 234.
274. Niemietz v Germany, No 13710/88, [1992] 16 EHRR 97.
275. Ibid at para 29.
276. is approach potentially conf‌licts with the majority’s viewpoint in
Campbell, supra note 63, that some information is “obviously private”, see
Moreham, supra note 50 at 646.
277. Von Hannover, supra note 25.
278. Ibid at para 50; Avram, supra note 206 at para 37; Gomery, supra note 185
at 409.
(2018) 4 CJCCL
insight into her personality and “psychological integrity”.279
e above jurisprudence has obvious relevance to RTBF claims and,
if followed, should result in courts and regulators resisting crude notions
that an event taking place in a public or semi-public environment cannot
for that reason be considered worthy of privacy protection.280
VI. Conclusion
At the time of writing, Article 17 is only a few days old and its proper
interpretation and likely impact remain matters of profound uncertainty.
is article has attempted, using Strasbourg’s privacy case law as its primary
guide, to of‌fer some preliminary answers to the most pressing questions
surrounding the application of the newly-formulated right to online
expression. e answers it has proposed are necessarily tentative: much
of the analysis has involved applying case-law developed in response to
very dif‌ferent scenarios from the online deletion right in the GDPR. But
we hope that our analysis has at least shown that the RTBF has profound
implications for how we think about online privacy. It may be that in the
end Article 17 inf‌luences Strasbourg’s case-law as much as the other way
around. What is certain is that far more work — by regulators, courts and
scholars — is needed to fully work out what Article 17 will mean and
how it will impact the world of online expression. Most importantly, we
do not yet know how signif‌icant a contribution it will make to its overall
279. Bryce Clayton Newell, “Public Places, Private Lives: Balancing Privacy
and Freedom of Expression in the United Kingdom” (Proceedings of the
77th ASIS&T Annual Meeting, vol 51, at 1–10, 2014) at 6, online: Social
Science Research Network ; Roger
Toulson, “Freedom of Expression and Privacy” (2007) 41:2 e Law
Teacher 139 at 140.
280. Prosser, supra note 244 (noting that “[t]he decisions indicate that
anything visible in a public place may be recorded and given circulation
by means of a photograph, to the same extent as by a written description,
since this amounts to nothing more than giving publicity to what is
already public and what any one present would be free to see” at 394).
For a forensic critique see E. Paton-Simpson, “Private Circles and Public
Squares: Invasion of Privacy by the Publication of ‘Private Facts’” (1998)
61:3 Modern Law Review 318, especially 321–326.
Brimblecombe & Phillipson, Regaining Digital Privacy?
goal: the enhancement of our informational autonomy online and with
it, the greater freedom to make life choices that might be inhibited by the
fear of behaviour being recorded in permanent form online recedes.281 As
Mayer-Schönberger puts it:
Since the beginning of time, for us humans, forgetting has been the norm
and remembering the exception. Because of digital technology and global
networks, however, this balance has shifted. Today … forgetting has become
the exception, and remembering the default.282
We are about to f‌ind out how far the right to be forgotten can start to
shift this balance back.
281. Westin, supra note 58 at 56; Francis Chlapowski, “e Constitutional
Protection of Informational Privacy” (1991) 71:1 Boston University Law
Review 133; Gerstein, supra note 214; Tom Gerety, “Redef‌ining Privacy”
(1977) 12:2 Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review 233 at
281; Ruth Gavison, “Too Early for a Requiem? Warren and Brandeis
Were Right on Privacy vs. Free Speech” (1992) 43:3 South Carolina Law
Review 437.
282. Mayer-Schönberger, supra note 40 at 2.

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