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7 Dec 2019 14:05
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  •   Home > News > International

    German murderer has 'right to be forgotten' by internet, according to top court

    Germany's Federal Constitutional Court finds old articles detailing a double murder committed by a man in 1981 have restricted his ability "to cultivate social relationships without the burden of being associated with the crime".

    Publications and search engines could be forced to restrict access to archived articles after a ruling by Germany's Federal Constitutional Court.

    A man convicted of a 1981 double murder has been found by the court to have the "right to be forgotten by the internet".

    The man, who shot two people dead on a yacht in 1981, was released from prison in 2002 and according to the court has been trying "to cultivate social relationships without the burden of being associated with the crime".

    In 2009, the murderer discovered three articles about the crime that named him, written in 1982 and 1983 for the magazine Der Spiegel, and uploaded to Spiegel Online in 1999.

    "The complainant submits that he himself did nothing to reignite public attention regarding his case," the court said.

    "Yet the current reality is that whenever people enter his name into an online search engine, as is commonplace today, they find the archived articles at the top of the search results.

    "The complainant claims that this severely impairs the free development of his personality.

    "The complainant does not contest that the murder trial from 30 years ago constitutes a significant event of contemporary history; he argues, however, that this does not necessarily mean that the public continues to have an interest in knowing his name even after so much time has passed."

    The man sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spiegel Online back in 2009 but it was unsuccessful, so he took his case to Germany's Federal Court of Justice.

    It rejected the action in 2012, based on the website's right to freedom of expression and the public right to information outweighing the killer's "interest in protection of his personality".

    This case is now set to return to the federal court system, with the Federal Constitutional Court pointing out that factors in similar cases need to be examined individually.

    Factors include the amount of time that has passed, and the impact articles have on a person's ability to carry on a normal life.

    "The general right of personality does not confer upon the individual a 'right to be forgotten' in a strict sense, as it does not grant the affected person an exclusive right to decide which information about them is to be 'forgotten'," the court wrote.

    "It is not for the affected person to decide unilaterally which information about them is to be remembered as interesting, admirable, offensive or condemnable.

    "Therefore, the general right of personality does not encompass a right to request that all information relating to one's person that is disseminated through communication processes be deleted from the internet."

    The most recent ruling does not force any publication to remove archived articles, but it could open the door to those requests in future.

    In September, Google won a fight against tougher "right to be forgotten" rules after Europe's top court said it did not have to remove links to sensitive personal data worldwide, rejecting a French demand.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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