Wikipedia link censorship shows Bonnie & Clyde might have had ‘right to be forgotten’

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The caretakers of Wikipedia this morning have given us an enlightening look at the type of individuals and organizations who are benefiting – or at least appear to be benefiting – from the misguided “right to be forgotten” campaign being imposed by European censors on Google and other search engines.

Among the beneficiaries: an Irish bank robber so notorious he’s been portrayed in a series of motion pictures; and an Italian criminal gang that’s also straight out of Central Casting.

Of the 328,000 links that Google has so far been coerced into removing, more than 50 were to Wikipedia, the organization reports.

One of those was to a page about Gerry Hutch:

Gerry Hutch (born 1963) is a former Irish convicted criminal alleged to have been one of Ireland's most successful bank robbers. He is often known by his nickname of The Monk because he pursues clean living and follows religious beliefs, leading a "disciplined, ascetic lifestyle" after leaving prison in 1985. …

Born in central Dublin, his criminal career began at the age of 10 when Hutch joined and later led the 'Bugsy Malone Gang' of inner city youngsters (named after the fictional feature film) whose crimes in the 1970s included "jump-overs": they would jump over bank counters, grab whatever cash they could and run out the door.[1]

He was later part of another gang primarily involved in major robberies and received many convictions between 1970 and 1985 intermittently spending time in prison.

His Wikipedia page indicates that Hutch, in addition to leading a monkish post-prison lifestyle, has also been actively litigious. That’s his right, of course. Having his earlier exploits forgotten should not be.

Next to receive a Wikipedia memory pass courtesy of European censors is Banda della Comasina:

La Banda della Comasina (Band of Comasina) is the name by which the Italian media used to indicate a criminal group active in the 70's in robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking and weapons in the northern area of Milan: the Comasina. The area of action included the control of entire neighborhoods in Milan, with the presence of roadblocks out any well-circumscribed, consisting of members and in which policemen were robbed and maligned.

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The “group” was active from the 1970s until 1987, according to its Wikipedia page, which is rather sparse in terms of detail.

Why Google choose to grant these link removal requests when it has denied about half of all it has received is not clear. However, among the justifications applicants can cite for “relief” are if the references to them are “inadequate,” “irrelevant” or “excessive.”

From a Wikipedia blog post this morning:

We only know about these removals because the involved search engine company chose to send notices to the Wikimedia Foundation. Search engines have no legal obligation to send such notices. Indeed, their ability to continue to do so may be in jeopardy. Since search engines are not required to provide affected sites with notice, other search engines may have removed additional links from their results without our knowledge. This lack of transparent policies and procedures is only one of the many flaws in the European decision.

As part of our commitment to transparency and our opposition to censorship, WMF has created a dedicated page where we will be posting notices about attempts to remove links to Wikimedia under this authority. The Wikimedia projects provide informational, educational, and historic value to the world. Their content should not be hidden from Internet users seeking truthful and relevant information.

Lest you think that only ex-criminals are benefiting from this non-existent right to be forgotten, Wikipedia reports that among its links being censored is one to a photograph of Tom Carstairs in concert. Again, there is no indication as to why Google granted this link removal.

Must be the horror of having people discover that you once played the guitar.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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