Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri have repeatedly refused to answer a very simple question: whether they have asked Google to delete search results for their names.
Google has received 240 ‘right to be forgotten’ requests from Malta since 2016, including nine from unnamed politicians and government officials.
And Labour Party sources have voiced suspicion that Mizzi and Schembri, who were embroiled in the Panama Papers scandal two years ago, could be among that select crowd.
Lovin Malta asked Mizzi and Schembri in December last year whether they made such a request to Google and sent reminder emails two weeks ago, but we have yet to receive a response.
In contrast, Opposition leader Adrian Delia confirmed back in December that he had not submitted any ‘right to be forgotten’ requests nor instructed anyone to do so on his behalf.
A spokesperson for Google said the tech giant does not comment on specific cases.
Left: OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, Right: Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi
The ‘right to be forgotten’ or ‘right to delist’ has been part of EU law since 2014, when the European Court of Justice ruled that citizens have the right not to have “irrelevant and outdated” information about themselves pop up whenever somebody searches for their names online. Search engines are allowed to reject applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to data privacy.
Nine Maltese politicians and government officials have requested to be delisted from Google since 2016
Google data show it has received 240 takedown requests for 1,318 URLs from Malta since 2016, including nine from politicians and government officials, six from non-governmental public entities and five from corporate entities. Google decided to keep online the vast majority (979) of these URLs ,but has pulled down the remaining 338.
The two websites which have born most of the brunt are The Times of Malta, with 22 URLs delisted, and The Malta Independent, with 16 URLs delisted.
A few months ago, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said he was disappointed at the lack of debate on the ‘right to be forgotten’ in Malta in the wake of the ECJ’s landmark ruling.
Back then, Bonnici invoked this ‘right’ in his defence of two student lawyers whose old criminal convictions were wiped clean off the court’s online database. However, IT experts argued that the ‘right to be forgotten’ as determined by the ECJ only applies to the delisting of data from search engines and not to the deletion of data at source.