In Another “Right to Be Forgotten” Case, UK Officials Threaten Legal Action Against People Posting Pictures Of Convicted Killer

Online security, privacyAlthough slightly different than the Spanish case discussed yesterday, the “right to be forgotten” has reared its head again — this time in the UK.” UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve has threatened legal action against anyone posting pictures of convicted killer Jon Venables online.

TechDirt offers a short summary of the underlying facts of the Vendables case:

Jon Venables, [ ] at the age of 10, murdered 2-year old James Bulger, in a rather horrifying story. Venables was released from jail in 2001, at the age of 19 (though he has since gone back to prison). Photos of Venables, now 30 years old and apparently using a new identity to avoid his past . . .

Photos purporting to this individual have reportedly appeared in various places online, including Twitter and Facebook.

UK Attorney General Grieve said that anyone caught posting online pictures of Venables or him in his new identity would be prosecuted. This is apparently based on a court injunction that “prevents publication of any images or information purporting to identify anyone as Jon Venables or Robert Thompson” (which I guess is the new identity, so much for anonymity).

While not strictly a “right to be forgotten” case, it adheres to the principle that bad past behavior or scandals shouldn’t be discoverable online. Google, Facebook and Twitter have been ordered to delete any and all photos of Venables (or him as the new identity).

Twitter apparently issued a statement saying that upon notification it would comply with the law, but wouldn’t proactively monitor users’ behavior to prevent the posting of pictures online.

This case raises a number of obvious, challenging issues.

First, there’s the right of people with something bad in their pasts to “start over.” Venables has been to prison; the crime was committed when he was a minor. If he’s to have any kind of normal existence (including a job) he has to get away from the stigma of the crime. The Internet makes that very challenging for fairly self-evident reasons.

There’s also the question of how to “regulate” millions of people on social media who may or may not be aware of any legal issues with their behavior. Finally, there’s the now familiar question about the role of publishers/platforms in enforcing laws and regulations and their potential liability for failing to do so — although, none of these websites has been directly threatened with legal action.

Clearly, there’s a lot of balancing that needs to go on: the balancing of Venables’ right to anonymity vs. the public’s right to discover or discuss public information (this is at the heart of the Spanish case, as well). Then there’s the practical challenge of regulating (and holding responsible) social media and search sites vs. the ability of those sites to constrain or regulate their users’ behavior.

The same issues raised by this case and the Spanish case will continue to show up in various forms for at least the foreseeable future. That’s because there is no good or simple resolution of these issues.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Legal: Privacy | Twitter: Business Issues


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Jonathan Hochman

    In the United States this restriction on free speech would never go unchallenged. The problem for Google and others is that they have built a product on US principles of free speech, and want to offer the product around the world. Will tech companies need to create a different flavor of service for each market? That would be bad. Will tech companies need to reduce their product to the minimum standard of the most repressive market they want to enter? That would be worse.

  • mickdude

    I don’t think the right to be forgotten applies in this case. People who commit such heinous crimes should be kept locked up indefinitely.

  • nex1s

    NO the right to be forgotten should only apply for some one who broke a window or got drunk or something stupid, the planned heinous murder of a two year old is a very different subject altogether and will always be a very emotive subject here in the UK, and I really wish you hadn’t published this article. Whilst your intentions I am sure are good as were tech dirt the summary you give is quite insulting.

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