​Amazon, Facebook, Google question 'right to erasure' under New Zealand's privacy revamp

18 February 2019 5:11pm

12 February 2019. By Laurel Henning.

Introducing a “right to erasure” as part of privacy-law changes in New Zealand would fundamentally change the public’s access to accurate information, an industry group including Amazon.com, Facebook and Google has told the country's parliament.

The Asia Internet Coalition said in a written submission that the right to demand the removal of lawful and accurate information from the Internet raises “fundamental issues of human rights.”

“A ‘right to erasure’ raises fundamental issues of human rights, in particular freedom of expression and whether people have a right to know the truth,” the industry group’s Feb. 1 submission says.

The Asia Internet Coalition, a group of 11 companies, says changing privacy laws to include a right to erasure “would affect all people seeking information and whether they are allowed to see accurate information — and would also affect agencies, including schools, local councils, etc.”

The submission is part of an ongoing review of New Zealand privacy laws being undertaken by the parliament’s Justice Committee.

New Zealand policymakers introduced the new privacy measures to parliament in March 2018, with a first reading in the assembly less than a month later. Submissions on the measures were due by May 24, according to the bill’s timeline, but more have been lodged since then, with other submissions raising questions over requirements for notifying authorities of data breaches.

The Asia Internet Coalition’s submission looks further afield, to the European Union, to assess a right to erasure.

The industry group refers to a Spanish case on which Europe’s highest court ruled in 2014. The case related to a Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja González, demanding to have his name delisted in URLs referencing articles published in the Spanish newspaper, La Vanguardia, in 1998.

The court ruled in favor of Costeja. Google was still appealing the decision recently, with Spain’s highest court dismissing an appeal from the company as recently as January.

The Asia Internet Coalition said this month that the Spanish case “requires private companies to decide if legal and truthful information should be removed from search results unless it is outweighed by the ‘public interest.’ This vague and difficult balancing test has been under continual review.”

The industry group adds that introducing a right to erasure in New Zealand wouldn’t be needed to maintain the country’s “adequacy status” with the EU. Japan and the EU agreed this month to recognize each other’s data protection systems as “equivalent,” without requiring Japan to enact a right to be forgotten.

The Asia Internet Coalition refers to a 2018 survey of New Zealanders in which respondents were asked questions including “if a news organization publishes a lawful and accurate story on its website, should New Zealanders always be able to find that story in a search engine?”

Another question posed in the survey was: "If someone has concerns about their personal reputation because of a lawful and accurate story published on a news website, should a search engine be required to remove that story?"

While 90 percent of respondents said "yes" to the question of being able to find news stories, 45 percent of respondents said a search engine should have to remove a lawful and accurate story if someone has reputational concerns.

The Asia Internet Coalition’s submission is the latest to the Justice Committee on changes to New Zealand’s privacy bill. A report on the bill’s progress is due to New Zealand’s parliament on March 13.

Andrea Jelinek