The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


James Bond, Bernie Sanders, Internet deindexing requests—and Albania


British actor Daniel Craig has confirmed he will slip into his tux one last time for the next Bond installment, due out in 2019, set in the exciting world of online reputation management. (Reuters.)

In September 2015, the Center for Public Integrity (Michael Beckel) ran a story about how

Daniel Craig, the actor famous for portraying the British spy, … donated nearly $50,000 this summer to Americans Socially United, an organization purporting to support Sanders' upstart presidential campaign.

What Craig apparently didn't know: The super PAC's founder, Cary Lee Peterson, has routinely run afoul of creditors and the law—including stiffing one of the nation's largest news companies out of a six-figure sum.

The story was picked up by various outlets, including the New York Times (Alan Rappeport). Then in March 2016, there was more news: The federal government charged Peterson with securities fraud involving a (non-election-related) business he ran. And in June 2016, the Center for Public Integrity provided an update:

Within days of [Peterson's] release [from pretrial detention], he registered two new political groups with the Federal Election Commission: a political action committee called the Alliance Against Disabled Inmate Abuse and a super PAC called Democrats Socially United, which is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to its nascent website,

Now, it turns out that someone has submitted a deindexing request asking Google to hide from searchers a vast array of news stories about Peterson, including those dealing with the events I discussed above—stories in the New York Times, Time, Roll Call, the Hill, Fortune, the Independent (United Kingdom), the Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Reuters, the Daily Caller and more.

The request was accompanied by a court order (since Google generally won't deindex material except to honor a court order). But the order was a protection order in Peterson v. Dortch, a Minnesota case that was based on alleged misbehavior by a woman who had dated Peterson, including her supposedly posting "personal/vital information and … explicit/intimate photo images of [Peterson] on social media and websites searchable in Google." The order didn't mention any of the websites that were eventually listed in the Google takedown request, and there is no reason that I see to think that Dortch is connected to those sites. (I couldn't even find any comments on the sites that I visited that appeared to match the alleged misconduct by Dortch.)

The attempt to hide the articles about Peterson was thus doomed to failure: To my knowledge, Google won't deindex sites based on a generic order such as this, especially when the order seems so unrelated to the material on the sites. Still, it struck me as noteworthy that the attempt was made and that someone was trying to hide the coverage of the underlying events.

Finally, let's not forget the Albanian medical marijuana connection; here's one of the photos that are covered in the deindexing request (connected to this story, which isn't listed in the URLs to be deindexed):


The request also aims to deindex this Albanian article and a Micronesian publication as well ("While awaiting trial on federal charges Cary Lee Peterson lists 'American Friends of Micronesia' as new client"). Peterson was apparently—at least to some Albanians— The Missionary of Great Changes, according to the Diplomatic Mission Peace & Prosperity site.

I emailed Peterson, at the email address given in the Minnesota order, for Peterson's side of the story, but got no answer. I also emailed Peterson's lawyer in the securities fraud case, and did reach the lawyer, but likewise got no statement.

Bonus points to the commenters with the best titles or plot summaries for a James Bond movie about Internet deindexing requests.