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EU privacy law Pimps and sex offenders among those using ‘right to be forgotten’

:: Articles about vice ring operator ‘delisted’ by Google


Jailed: Newspaper articles relating to the activities of convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick have been delisted by Google

Jailed: Newspaper articles relating to the activities of convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick have been delisted by Google

Jailed: Newspaper articles relating to the activities of convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick have been delisted by Google

Press coverage of the activities of a criminal who was behind a multi-million-euro vice ring has been ‘forgotten’ by Google following requests under EU privacy law, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The articles relate to the activities of convicted brothel keeper Mark McCormick, whose father Peter founded Ireland’s biggest sex-worker website.

The decision to “delist” the articles from certain Google searches has been strongly criticised by Ruhama, the NGO working with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

Google has also delisted news articles relating to convictions for sexual offences, including court reports on men convicted of possessing child sexual abuse material.

The reports are thought to have been delisted from internet searches at the request of the guilty parties.

While the articles still exist, they will not show up on Google searches when certain search terms are used, making them harder to find.

It can also be revealed articles relating to former politicians, including one convicted for perverting the course of justice, have been delisted from internet search results.

The developments are likely to further fuel concerns over the operation of the ‘right to be forgotten’, introduced following a landmark ruling of the Court of Justice for the European Union in 2014.

This established a right for individuals to request that internet search engines delist links containing information about them that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive”.

But it is not an absolute right because public interest factors must be taken into account.

Currently, Google decides on such requests itself.

However, revelations last weekend that dozens of articles about the legal battles and lifestyle of the family of former tycoon Seán Quinn had been delisted prompted calls from civil liberties groups for the Data Protection Commission (DPC) to review how the law is being implemented.

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The DPC says it handles individual complaints where the person involved is unhappy with the outcome of a request to have search results delisted.

In a statement, Google defended its handling of requests to delist articles about criminal convictions for sexual offences and organising prostitution.

“Search engines are required by European privacy law to delist older pages from search results about criminal convictions ‘in the light of the time that has elapsed’,” it said.

“Google did not welcome the right to be forgotten, but we have worked hard to implement it in line with guidance from EU courts and regulators, and to strike a sensible balance between two important, fundamental rights – people’s right of access to information in the public interest and privacy.”

However, Ruhama said the decision in relation to the Mark McCormick articles was “deeply disappointing”.

The delisted articles include a 2010 Sunday Independent piece about McCormick being sentenced to 30 months in jail, 14 of which were suspended.

It outlined he was the suspected author of a handbook issued to those working in his vice ring, instructing prostitutes what to say and how to behave with customers.

Another delisted article dealt with how the company behind the Escorts Ireland website, founded by Peter McCormick, relocated to Spain after initially being based in London to avoid prosecution for profiting from prostitution in Ireland.

Ruhama said the use of the right to be forgotten in a scenario such as this could have “far-reaching consequences” across Irish society.

In a statement, it said: “Women who are impacted by the exploitative nature of the sex trade are already so hidden.

“As a result of this secrecy, they often find themselves in increasingly precarious and vulnerable situations without access to support.

“The scourge of sexual exploitation is very present across Irish society and any attempts to benefit the reputation of an individual where the potential resultant impact is less awareness of this issue is unacceptable.”

The SundayWorld is also aware of the delisting of at least three articles relating to the conviction of men for possession of child sex abuse material.

These include the case of a man with three daughters who was given a suspended two-and-a-half year sentence in 2015 and placed on the sex offenders register.

A second case related to a father-of-one who was caught with child sexual abuse images on his phone after going to a shop looking for assistance in transferring them from one phone to another.

He got a three-year suspended sentence in 2012.

Another delisted article relates to a “revenge porn” case in 2017 where a man was ordered to pay compensation to his victim.

The man secretly videoed himself having sex with the woman and uploaded the video to a pornography site.

The video was taken down at the request of gardaí. However, the man then uploaded it again.

The Irish Independent is also aware of successful delisting requests being made by people living in England about articles published in Ireland.

These include the case of a teacher who was given an 18-month suspended sentence after a jury in London found him guilty, as a person in a position of trust, of sexual activity with a child, one of his students.

Several Irish articles about the controversy surrounding former UK cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife, economist Vicky Pryce, have also been delisted. Huhne and Pryce were both jailed in 2013 for perverting the course of justice when she took speeding points for her then husband.

Four articles from 2015 featuring then Fine Gael TD Seán Conlan have also been delisted, although it is unclear who made the requests. He did not respond when contacted for comment.

One of the articles dealt with an altercation in a bar.

The former TD, who lost his seat in 2016, was later fined for an assault which a judge said was on the “lower end” of the scale. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

The articles are among around 16,000 Irish webpages delisted by Google since 2014.

Google says its criteria for deciding on requests is based on guidelines from the European Commission. The amount of time that has passed since an article was published is the main factor it considers.

It also considers changes in someone’s circumstances. If a former politician, who has left political life, makes a delisting request, Google is open to delisting the link if the report no longer substantively relates to the person’s life today.

Google is also influenced by the DPC, which sometimes requests a delisting on behalf of an individual.

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