The “Right to be Forgotten” refers to an individual’s ability to request that a search engine (or other data provider) remove links to information about himself or herself from search results. IFLA’s Governing Board has approved a statement on the “Right to be Forgotten” that highlights crucial issues that libraries must consider when participating in discussions about data privacy, and identifies areas of concern that could have negative effects on long-term access to information. IFLA has noted the global application of the Right to be Forgotten within court rulings and legislation and has also issued a background paper to accompany the statement.

The right to be forgotten raises issues for libraries including the integrity of and access to the historical record, freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, and individual privacy. Information on the public Internet may have value for the public or for professional researchers and so should, in general, not be intentionally hidden, removed or destroyed. IFLA finds that freedom of access to information cannot be honoured where information is removed from availability or is destroyed. IFLA accepts the necessity of protecting the privacy of living persons, the confidentiality of business and the security of government information insofar as these goals do not conflict with a higher public good.

IFLA urges library professionals to participate in policy discussions about the right to be forgotten, while both supporting the right to privacy for individual citizens and assisting individuals in their searches for information.  To this effect, library professionals should:

  • Raise awareness among policy makers to ensure that the right to be forgotten does not apply where retaining links in search engine results is necessary for historical, statistical and research purposes; for reasons of public interest; or for the exercise of the right of freedom of expression.
  • Fully support access to information for researchers who require personally identifiable information for biographical, genealogical and other research and publications, and advocate to policy makers when policy related to the right to be forgotten may result in the destruction or loss of access to information for these purposes.
  • Oppose the removal of links from the results of name searches of public figures.
  • Advocate for transparency in the criteria and processes used by search engines in RTBF decisions.
  • Continue to promote the practice of name indexing to ensure the continued availability of content for historical and research purposes.
  • Advise library users, in national or regional contexts where a right to be forgotten regime may be in force, to search the Internet through more than one national instance of a search engine, and with a variety of search terms, so as to maximize their chances of locating desired information that may have been published on the Internet. 
  • Support individuals who request assistance in finding more information on the application of the right to be forgotten to their individual circumstances.

Read the full IFLA Statement on the Right to be Forgotten and the background paper:

The statement was jointly drafted by members of the IFLA Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) committee and the Copyright and Other Legal Matters (CLM) committee.

Additional translations of the IFLA Statement on the Right to be Forgotten to follow shortly.