Free Speech

N.H. Prosecution for Forgery That Had Been Aimed at Getting Material Vanished from Google Search Results

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If you send Google a court order that finds certain online material to be libelous, Google will consider "deindexing" that material—essentially making it disappear from Google search results. The order wouldn't legally bind Google (American court orders gotten against a particular defendant don't bind third parties who aren't in league with the defendant); but Google will often choose to act on it, on the theory that a court has determined that the material is false and defamatory. To my knowledge, Google doesn't do the same for expungement orders, but people sometimes submit those orders to Google in any event.

But any successful system breeds parasites—here, attempts to procure such court orders fraudulently, or even using forgery (see this forthcoming article). Last week, a criminal complaint was filed in New Hampshire against Heidi L. Holt as to one alleged forgery:

And here is the alleged forgery (though you can see it more clearly here):

The alleged forgery was submitted to Google with a deindexing request for these pages:

https://www.spokeo.com/Heidi-Holt/New-Hampshire
https://www.nh.gov/nhdoc/divisions/parole/documents/02_27_14.pdf
https://www.laconiadailysun.com/news/courts_cops/two-indicted-on-sex-assault-charges/article_7afa1f6a-19ac-11e9-9110-1f39a8443dd1.html [note that this article mentioned Holt only in passing as part of an arrest blotter, unrelated to the headline, and the newspaper has by now apparently removed her name]
https://www.fosters.com/article/20100428/GJNEWS_01/704289912?template=ampart
https://www.docketbird.com/find-federal-court-cases/bankruptcy/district-of-new-hampshire-bankruptcy/2019/10000-10499

Holt is charged with forgery and with tampering with public records. For similar cases from past years, see here, here, here, and here.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: February 3, 1812

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  1. It sounds like the US is following the EU’s lead by focusing on the search engines as opposed to the source web sites. That is analogous to asking Volokh blog to remove this post because it gives links to the source sites. Ridiculous for Volokh blog. Ridiculous for Google. The only logical means should be to order the original posters to take down the offending content. That includes public record sites.

    I understand the appeal of petitioning one central party rather than many. I do not understand, why Google and others don’t fight like hell to prevent this terrible precedent. Is there no fear of it spreading from Google to any site that provides URL links to any other site? Just because the EU did it, why do we?

    The World Wide Web would never have gotten off the ground if there were no hyperlinks.

    1. As Prof. Volokh notes in the post you apparently didn’t read, Google is not legally required to honor these requests, and couldn’t be compelled to do so absent a sea change in the law.

      1. As Archibald Tuttle notes in the comment you apparently didn’t read, Archibald Tuttle only wonders why Google et all don’t fight these. Archibald Tuttle specifically does not say that Google is legally required to honor these requests, or could be compelled to do so.

        1. The only logical means should be to order the original posters to take down the offending content. That includes public record sites.

    2. In addition to what Noscitur said, there is also the issue that stuff sometimes shows up on search engines even after it’s been deleted from the original Web site.

    3. Because individuals fight and corporations cave. It’s a path of least resistance situation. Google will delay people if you say pretty please. While a website might make you prove you have a right to have something taken down.

    4. “I do not understand, why Google and others don’t fight like hell to prevent this terrible precedent.”

      What precedent? As is, no courts are involved between the parties seeking to have something deindexed and Google.

  2. I had to read a little bit to figure out that it was the forgery, and not the prosecution, that was aimed at vanishing articles and records.

    1. Me too. That comma should perhaps be replaced with a “that was”.

      1. Good point, tried to clarify it.

  3. But any successful system breeds parasites

    This observation has much broader application than this case.

  4. Did she also get greedy with her forged order? Is there any legit way a state court judge could expunge Federal charges?

    1. The first thing I noticed about the order was precisely its unusual breadth — I’d never seen an order that purports to expunge “all felonies and misdemeanors” (even within the same jurisdiction).

      1. What are the odds that she will forge an order expunging her forgery conviction?

        1. For a related incident, see this post. Turtles all the way down!

  5. I’m happy to see someone taking actions on these things.

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