Mario Cotija: “I have not fought for the right to be forgotten by a politician who puts his hand in the box”
The right to oblivion of a politician who has been convicted for putting his hand in the box is against freedom of expression, I have not fought for it”, explains Mario Cotija, who has managed to get the Court of Justice of the European Union recognizes the option of citizens to have some links that may harm them be removed from Google, a possibility that has been dubbed the “derecho al olvido“.
Cotija has not become famous as an expert calligrapher, nor for his knowledge of the gestures we make when we speak – the non-verbal language – but for winning a six-year legal battle against Google, one of the internet giants . But he tries to clarify and clarify that he was only claiming the right of “irrelevant” citizens to get data that offends their dignity and is erroneous to be removed from the search engines. “I defend freedom of expression, and the line is very thin,” he acknowledges.
It all started because he noticed that when someone searched for his name on Google, on the first page of results there was a link to an advertisement published in ‘La Vanguard’ for the auction of a property – which he co-owned -seized for debts with the Social Security. He felt this was damaging him, complained to the Data Protection Agency and ended up in court. “I wasn’t the debtor, I didn’t have any debt with Social Security, and the debt was already paid,” explains Cotija; the search engine had included the link to the ad when the newspaper digitized its newspaper archive, quite some time after the fact.
The ruling notes that anyone can request that links be removed from search engines if they wish to erase their traces on the internet, as long as they demonstrate that “a certain amount of time” has passed and that the information published is not “adequate” or “relevant”. Cotija insists that this is how “irrelevant” citizens are protected, who get rights they didn’t have until now, to protect “dignity and honor”. Theoretically this should apply as long as it does not affect the freedom of information and expression, when it is not a public office, for example.
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The first critical voices have already come out with the judicial decision, such as the Association of Internet Users , because they consider that it harms transparency. Now, if a citizen considers that Google has indexed information that harms him without reason, he can go to the search engine, which, in turn, will have to decide whether it is a relevant personality or not and whether it is necessary to remove the link in question. If Google decides to ignore it, the citizen can take the case to the courts, which will decide.
Initially, however, it would be Google who would have the option to delete the link – until now, by system, it did not do this. There is, therefore, the possibility that the search engine will delete directly when asked for links with data that may be of informative interest to citizens because it considers them to be irrelevant. “That’s Google’s thing,” says Cotija, “I can’t get into it.” Google’s director of communication for southern Europe, Marisa Toro, in a brief statement by email, warned yesterday: “We will spend time, from this moment on, to analyze the implications of this decision.” He sees the court ruling as “disappointing for search engines and ‘online’ publishers in general”.
Data Protection Agency
Now if someone searches for “Mario Cotija” on Google they will get more than 70,000 results . And many talk about the auction and the debt, with different versions of the facts. What he wanted to eliminate, paradoxically, has become more visible than ever, although, with so many published articles, there is also more information that contextualizes those facts. Cotija did not imagine that his legal fight would have all this resonance, when it began, but when the media started talking about him he decided to talk to them to explain himself. “They talked about me constantly, I acted to defend the rights I believed I had and it began to spread… I was already in the limelight and I was pushed into it,” he says.
However, Cotija defends his fight. “If Google used to be a good tool, now it’s perfect, because the citizen can claim rights that he didn’t have before and, ultimately, professionals in the judiciary will decide whether they belong to him or not,” he says. He maintains that he has left “an open door” that everyone can take advantage of and that he has already achieved what he intended, that he withdraws from this whole struggle. The Spanish Data Protection Agency has already ruled in favor of Cotija and states that Google has around 220 appeals against decisions it has made in similar cases.
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