ARTICLE 19 is submitting an expert opinion to Russia’s Constitutional Court on an important case concerning the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ in the context of articles on hate crimes that have been removed from Google search results.
In 2016, a ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law entered into force in Russia that restricts the free flow of information online by enabling Russian citizens to request that search engines delist links about them. The only requirement is that the information is “inaccurate and outdated” or “has lost meaning to the applicant due to subsequent events.” The law provides a limited exception for information relating to criminal offences, where the conviction has not been quashed or removed from the official record.
The law has allegedly been used by Russian public officials to remove online content addressing their misconduct and/or corruption. In 2017, a court ordered Yandex to remove links to articles concerning a Swiss investigation into money laundering that led to a temporary freeze on her bank accounts totalling $61 million, which it said defamed the dignity and business reputation of former minister of agriculture Elena Skrynik. That same year, a St Petersburg court ordered Russian search engine Yandex to remove search results regarding businessman Ilya Kligman that linked him with allegations of corruption because they did not result in a criminal conviction.
This law is now being challenged before the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation by SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, a Moscow-based non-profit that publishes news releases on news related to radical nationalism, hate crime, and counter-responses; and maintains a public database that records incidents of hate crimes and convictions for extremism.
As part of this news coverage, SOVA published two articles in 2006 and 2008 about convictions for hate crimes. The first incident covered the convictions of Yuri Shchebyetuk and Alexei Ershov for beating an Angolan national. The second related to the conviction of 8 individuals for supporting neo-Nazism, including Yuri Shchebyetuk.
In 2016, Google notified SOVA that it had received a request to de-list those two articles. Google did not disclose the source of the request, since search engines are forbidden from disclosing this information.
ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to support SOVA’s challenge of the law. ARTICLE 19’s brief argues that the law violates the Russian Federation’s obligation to comply with international and European freedom of expression standards for the following reasons:
- The law fails to provide the basic safeguards necessary to protect the right to freedom of expression, particularly exceptions for personal information that is in the public interest and/or concerns public figures.
- Furthermore, the law lacks critical procedural safeguards, including the right of linked-to sites to be notified that a request for delisting has been made regarding their content, and a requirement that search engines publish transparency reports containing sufficiently detailed information about the nature, volume and outcome of requests.
- Finally, the law is overly broad because it requires search engines to potentially take action in relation to any domain name on the Internet, rather than limiting its scope to .ru domain names.