As far as she’s aware, the fact that there is information online about her criminal record hasn’t had too much of an impact on Lucy. However, since her conviction became spent she has started to feel very strongly that either the articles themselves, or links to them should be removed.
Back in May 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that individuals should be able to request the deletion or removal of personal data published online where there is no compelling reason for it to remain. This has become known as the ‘right to be forgotten’.
I was on holiday in Devon when this news broke and I can remember listening to the radio and thinking of the enormous impact this could have on somebody like me – a person with a criminal record whose name could easily be found online.
Following my release from prison, I’d been lucky enough to get a full time job and, although I’d disclosed my unspent conviction to my manager, I lived in constant fear that a work colleague would ‘google’ me and spill the beans about my past. To the best of my knowledge I don’t think this ever happened but I can never be sure. So, having the opportunity to apply for links to my name to be removed was potentially a massive deal for me.
A few days after the Court of Justice case had been reported on some of the more right wing newspapers were criticising the changes. One said:
Applications have come from corrupt public figures and criminals desperate to hide their past.“
Although Google stressed that they would deal with each delisting application on a case by case basis, it quickly became clear that they were unwilling to remove search results relating to unspent convictions. Knowing that it was going to take many years for my conviction to become spent making an application to Google seemed less of an option for me.
As I was married with a family, changing my name also presented more challenges than it overcome and so, I made a conscious decision to try and increase my positive profile on the internet.
Creating a profile on sites like Linkedin gave me an immediate presence online as did commenting on articles written by others. I started submitting my own articles to publications and sites and was surprised when they were published. I later found out that many trade magazines struggle to get people to write articles for free and are open to accepting those written on topical issues.
It wasn’t a quick process but within a year I’d managed to push a lot of the negative newspaper reports to page 3 on Google and, as time went on, removing links to my name became less important.
However, once my conviction became spent it actually bought home to me how wrong it is that the links to my name still exist online. I may be naive in thinking that an employer seeing this might still give me the opportunity to explain myself if they felt I had the skills and experience to do the job. But what about colleagues? I doubt whether they’d confront me over what they’d read but some would undoubtedly believe everything the newspaper had reported.
And so I’ve decided to face rejection again and make an application to Google to have the links to my name removed. I wanted to share this experience with all those that read theRecord and pass on anything I learn from this journey.
I can’t say it’s started too well. Today I’ve tried to pull together a list of URL links for every article appearing in a search on my name (you need to provide these on the online application form). I’m not sure what made me read every article but I did. I find it hard to recognise the woman being described on those pages but I remember so clearly how chaotic and out of control her life was at that time. It’s hard reading this stuff and I’ve certainly shed a tear or two.
I get the feeling that this process might be harder than I imagined but as they say “tomorrow is another day“. Just watch this space.
By Lucy (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
Since the news in 2014 of ‘the right to be forgotten’ Unlock has been actively looking at if and how this is being applied to spent convictions. We would encourage anybody who has been unsuccessful with Google (or other search engines) to refer their case to the Information Commissioners Office as a formal complaint.
- Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
- Information – We have practical self-help information on the ‘google effect’, internet search results and the right to be forgotten.
- Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum.
- Policy work – Find out more about the work we’re doing on stopping the ‘google-effect’ for people with spent convictions.