Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

Google rejects requests by EU terrorists to wipe reports of their crimes

Social media giant reveals to 'The National' that it has received almost 40 requests

Google has received almost 1million requests to remove webpage searches. Reuters
Google has received almost 1million requests to remove webpage searches. Reuters

Google has rejected dozens of requests from convicted terrorists and their families to delete news reports on atrocities that killed hundreds of people.

Terrorists across Europe have asked the media giant to act under the EU's "right to be forgotten" scheme and requested that details of their crimes are permanently wiped from internet searches.

Under the policy, Google considers each request and decides whether its presence on the internet breaches a person’s human rights, or if it were in the public interest for it to remain.

In one case, a relative of one of the bombers in the 2005 bus and underground attacks on London on July 7 applied to have two news articles removed.

The relative was not believed to be implicated in the attack.

The attacks, in which four suicide bombers detonated rucksacks full of explosives on buses and the Tube in central London, killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.

It was the worst terrorist atrocity on British soil.

“We received a request from a relative of a perpetrator of the 2005 London terrorist attacks to delist two news articles from Google Search," the company said.

“The articles, published in the context of the 2017 Westminster terrorist attack, briefly mention the relative as having given an interview in 2006 about views on terrorism and personal experience as a relative of a terrorist.

“We did not delist the two URLs for public interest purposes.”

Ahmed Patel, the brother-in-law of ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, has spoken out to encourage Muslims to do more to battle extremism and support the UK government’s counter-radicalisation programme.

It is not known if Mr Patel was the person in contact with Google.

In Spain, the former head of a terrorist group’s political arm requested that the details about their role be removed.

Google again refused on the grounds that it was in the public interest for the information to remain.

Since the scheme was launched almost six years ago, it has received almost 1 million requests to delete more than 3.5 million web pages.

It has approved the removal of almost half of these, or 46.2 per cent.

A fifth of all requests were for the removal of news articles across Europe and many of these involved criminals wanting reports of their crimes deleted.

There have been cases of murderers wanting the facts behind their crimes wiped, priests wanting sex crimes removed and politicians convicted of frauds wanting the internet history wiped.

Other cases included:

UK – A person who set up an alleged fraudulent crowdfunding page to raise funds for victims of the London Bridge 2017 terror attack asked for 33 news articles to be removed. It was refused.

Germany – A plane hijacker requested reports about his conviction for hijacking an East German to try to flee to West Germany in 1984 to be deleted. It was removed because of the age of the offence.

Netherlands – A member of a group asked for their listing on a government department’s counter-terrorism webpage to be removed. It was refused.

France – The French Data Protection Agency applied on behalf of a terrorist to have the person’s conviction details removed. The person had been sentenced to two years in prison for aiding and abetting a family member in a botched terrorist attack. Seven URLs were removed as Google determined that the person’s sentence had been served.

Belgium – A former politician with the far-right Vlaams Blok asked for eight articles relating to their trial and convictions for murder and attempted murder to be removed. It was rejected.

Spain – A Member of the European Parliament asked for articles about his involvement in a bribery and corruption scandal to be removed. It was rejected.

Google has been asked to remove at least 40 terror-related articles.

About a quarter of all requests received from the UK, France and Spain related to news articles.

“We assess each request on a case-by-case basis," Google said. "In some cases, we may ask the individual for more information.

“After a request is submitted to us via our webform it undergoes a manual review.

"Once we reach a decision, the individual will receive an email notifying him or her of our decision and, if we do not delist the URL, a brief explanation.

“A few common material factors involved in decisions not to delist pages include the existence of alternative solutions, technical reasons, or duplicate URLs.

"We may also determine that the page contains information which is strongly in the public interest.

“Determining whether content is in the public interest is complex and may mean considering many diverse factors, including - but not limited to - whether the content relates to the requester’s professional life, a past crime, political office, position in public life, or whether the content is self-authored content, consists of government documents or is journalistic in nature.”

This month Sweden fined Google £6.8 million for breaches of the right to be forgotten scheme for failing to “adequately” remove search links.

It also ordered the company not to tell website operators their URLs had been delisted in case they created a new page for it.

Updated: March 20, 2020 01:00 AM

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