UK declares war on the Streisand Effect

Technically Incorrect: The UK government is ordering Google to remove links to stories about links to stories. Got that?

The Web never ends.

You can think you’ve got it under control, then it comes at you from the direction you least expected.

It’s not an easy task, therefore, to erase an event entirely from the Web’s deep and labyrinthine memory. Though some European governments would like to.

The latest foray of this Quixotic quest involves the Information Commissioner’s Office in the United Kingdom. It ordered Google to remove links to stories about links to stories.

Somewhere, M.C. Escher smiled.

As the Guardian reports, the ICO has ordered Google to take down nine links to recent new stories about things that were, in the past, ordered removed under the “right to be forgotten” concept.

This envisions a world where people aren’t stigmatized by that one terrible thing they did some time ago.

The intention is noble. Some, though, wonder whether it might allow serious criminals to remove all evidence of their criminality. It might also allow the very powerful to rewrite history in an even simpler way than the ones they’ve been using over the years.

However, in this latest case — involving a shoplifting conviction from 10 years ago — the result appears to be that the media cannot write about the fact that the information was originally taken down.

Neither the UK ICO nor Google were immediately available for comment. However, the ICO gave Google 35 days — starting August 18 — to remove the links.

The ICO’s deputy commissioner, David Smith, told the Guardian that the links didn’t represent news. He said this case wasn’t one “where the information is about an individual in public life or where making the information available would protect the public from improper or unprofessional conduct.”

It may well be that other governments, keen on controlling the Web without excessively obvious attempts at censorship, will adopt the same approach.

But can they defeat the Streisand Effect — so-called because the famous singer and actor tried to get photos of her Malibu home removed from the Web in 2003, which only encouraged more people to try to find them?

If the UK government continues in its quest, won’t someone set up a site in some dark corner of the Web that will list all the takedowns and all the information that was initially removed?

And so it will go on.

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