Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on Censorship of Internet Search Results: 'History Is a Human Right'



As Scott Shackford noted on Monday, enforcement of "the right to be forgotten" continues apace in the European Union. The Guardian reports that as of July 18, Google had received 91,000 requests that it remove links to embarrassing or inconvenient content from its search results. Those requests become legally enforceable demands when a country's privacy protection agency sides with a complainant, based on a subjective, amorphous standard established by the European Court of Justice last May. So far Google has granted most requests (53 percent) upon receiving them, refused about a third, and asked for additional information about the rest. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who has emerged as a prominent and passionate critic of this censorship, condemned it again today as he released Wikimedia's first annual transparency report:

History is a human right, and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another….I've been in the public eye for quite some time. Some people say good things; some people say bad things…That's history, and I would never use any kind of legal process to try to suppress it.

Wales provided additional information about 60 or so Wikipedia pages that Google has agreed not to include in its E.U. search results. Here are four of them, which are related to four requests:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tom_Carstairs_In_Concert.jpg (photo of a guitarist)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Hutch (article about "an Irish criminal, said to have been one of Ireland's most successful bank robbers")

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banda_della_Comasina (article about "a criminal group active in the 70's in robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking and weapons in the northern area of Milan")

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renato_Vallanzasca (article about "a notorious Italian mobster from Milan who was a powerful figure in the Milanese underworld during the 1970s")

I found English-language versions of the latter two items, which is how I know what they're about. The rest of the pages, all related to one request, seem limited to the Dutch version of Wikipedia. My Dutch is not so good, so I'm not sure what was offensive about those pages, but they seem to have something to do with Guido den Broeder, whoever that might be.

All of these pages can still be viewed directly at the various Wikipedia sites, or via non-E.U. versions of Google, so this memory hole is not very deep. But eliminating the E.U.-directed links certainly makes the information less accessible, which is the whole idea. The government-ordered expurgation of search engine results is an especially insidious and cowardly form of censorship, stopping short of erasing information completely yet having much the same impact as far as most Internet users are concerned.

Since search engines are not obligated to disclose censorship requests to affected individuals or organizations, the full impact of this policy may never be recognized. "We find this type of veiled censorship unacceptable," said Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "But we find the lack of disclosure unforgivable. This is not a tenable future. We cannot build the sum of all human knowledge without the world's true source, based on pre-edited histories."