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Moving on: What can I do about information that’s reported about my offence online?

This month, we’ve written another article for Inside Times ‘Through the Gate’ section which focuses on dealing with information that’s available about you online.

A copy of the article can be found below.

As you prepare to leave prison and start considering applying for jobs or housing, you might also have to think about the risk of an internet search revealing the details of your criminal record.

Although official criminal records are not available online, if there was any media interest in your case then it’s likely that information about you can be found from newspaper articles. We regularly hear from individuals whose employers have carried out ‘Google’ searches as a way of informally checking their criminal records. Even work colleagues and new partners will be able to find out about your past online and let’s be clear – not much printed about you in the media is going to make good reading!

What can you do about the so-called ‘Google-effect’?

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 was no compelling reason for it to remain. This is often referred to as ‘the right to be forgotten’. Following the ruling, Google (and other search engines) launched a system whereby individuals could request that information about them is removed from search results.

The evidence so far has shown that they will normally refuse your application all the time your conviction is unspent (under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974). That means you’ll have to wait at least a couple of years after release – for example, a 12 month prison sentence given to an adult becomes spent 4 years after the end of the full sentence.

Once spent, we would certainly recommend that you make an application to have the links removed. Even at this point, you’ll still need to outline why you believe the information about you is:

  • Irrelevant – You might want to highlight how it’s no longer necessary for you to disclose your conviction for the types of job you’re applying for; how you’re not a high profile figure and how you’re not a danger to the public. If you can, include evidence of how you’ve changed since your offence.
  • Inappropriate – This might include setting out the length of time since you were convicted; the effect it’s having on you and your family; how it affects your future job prospects and how it is generally having a disproportionate affect on your life.
  • Outdated or not in the public interest.

Other way’s of dealing with the problem

Regardless of the new system, many people with convictions continue to experience difficulties because of their convictions being printed online. This is especially so if you’ve just left prison.

One option you might want to consider is changing your name. Although this won’t get you away from your criminal record (for example, if an employer did a criminal record check then it would still appear if it’s unspent), it does prevent people from getting access to information that they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to.

Another option to think about is trying to flood the internet with alternative, positive stories about yourself to ‘force down’ the reports that relate to your conviction. This could be something as simple as posting comments about articles you’ve read on different websites or being a bit more ambitious and starting a ‘blog on a topic that you’ve got an interest in.

What is Unlock doing to help?

Even once it’s spent, success in removing links to the information isn’t guaranteed. We’ve seen many cases refused. So we’ve been working with a law-firm specialising in this field to advise people with spent convictions on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. We’re taking a small number of claims forward, and the aim is to get a presumption that once it’s spent, it should be removed.

In the meantime, we’re working with employers to make sure that they don’t rely on information that can be found online, and instead encouraging them to have recruitment practices which give applicants the opportunity to explain their past in their own words.


Are you affected by the online publication of your spent convictions? Possible legal remedies

If you have a spent conviction and are suffering reputational harm or distress as a result of material about that conviction being published online and/or which features in online searches against your name, legal remedies may be available.

The publication of an item, article or link which refers to a spent conviction and identifies the person concerned could be legally actionable as a misuse of private information and/or a breach of data protection rights.

Carter-Ruck, a law firm specialising in this area, has agreed to work with Unlock and they are willing to advise people with spent convictions on a “no win no fee” basis, recovering costs from your opponent where a legal claim is made, with a view to having links to offending articles removed from online searches against your name and/or the articles themselves taken down and in appropriate cases to claim damages and costs.

If you would like Carter-Ruck to consider your case, please complete this questionnaire and send it to us electronically. Alternatively, you can print and complete it manually, sending it by post to the address on the questionnaire.

Your details will be treated in the strictest confidence and will not be shared beyond Unlock or Carter-Ruck without your permission.

We will pass all completed questionnaires to Carter-Ruck, who will contact you directly to advise, answer your questions and, where appropriate, to take your claim forward.

As this work forms part of Unlock’s policy work on what we refer to as the ‘Google-effect’, Carter-Ruck will keep us regularly up-to-date with progress on your claim.

Are you looking to have ‘Google’ search results removed?

We have added a new information page, information on the internet, online and through search engines like Google, which brings together our information, advice and other useful resources relating to information that may be available about you on the internet through search engines such as Google.

Following the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling in May 2014, which enables individuals to request the removal of information from Google search results, our helpline has received many enquiries from people seeking assistance in making applications to Google. We’ve produced a new search engine removal request which you can use as a guide when making your case, and then copy/paste into the online forms that the different search engines have.

For more information

  1. For practical self-help information – For more information go to information on the internet, online and through search engines like Google 
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about internet issues posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the category of the ‘Google effect.
  3. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on the ‘Google effect’ and spent convictions.
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ – but does it help people with convictions?

We’ve published a new section of information looking the recent ‘right to be forgotten’ issue which relates to Google’s search results. We’ve copied this section below, and the specific section will be regularly updated as we learn more about how it works in practice.

We are looking for evidence of whether people have been successful in getting Google or others to remove search results and/or online content. We have a dedicated policy section on the main Unlock website explaining more about this’


You might have seen in the news recently that Google has launched a system where people can request information be removed from Google’s search results. This has come about because of a ruling on the 13th May by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google’s search results infringed his privacy. The court found in his favour, and this has potentially wide-reaching consequences for search engines like Google.

The ruling only covers the removing of the search results – the information will still exist on the website that published the original article but Google won’t be able to deliver matches to some enquiries that are entered. Deletion of the original information would still be the responsibility of the website owner, and in our experience, it’s very rare that websites agree to remove details relating to convictions (see more in reporting of criminal records in the media).

Information will only disappear from searches made in Europe. Queries piped through its sites outside the EU will still show the relevant search results.

However, many people are still seeing the ruling as a potential way of dealing with the ‘google-effect’ that often haunts people for lots of different reasons, and our Helpline and Forum have already seen this being raised by quite a few people when it comes to past convictions that have been reported online. So the important question for us is whether it will actually help people with convictions?

Is it likely to help people with convictions?

At the moment, the answer is that we simply don’t know. That’s why we want to encourage people with spent convictions to submit a request (see ‘What next’ below) to see how Google are dealing with requests like this.

Google itself has admitted that their system is their “initial effort” at complying with the Court’s judgement, and there’s little evidence of how they’re dealing with individual applications. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the judgement surprised many people, including Google themselves, and initial reports suggest that they’re being swamped with requests, with some suggesting that Google has been receiving over 10,000 requests per day. The ruling applies to other search engines too (e.g. Yahoo, Bing).

Google has said that information would start to be removed from mid-June and that decisions about data removal would be made by people rather than an algorithm which governs almost every part of Google’s search system.

Future updates

This update will be used to start a new section, titled ‘The Google Effect’. We will be using this page to add further information about how this issue progresses in the coming weeks and months.

We want to make sure that our website is as helpful as possible.

Letting us know if you easily found what you were looking for or not enables us to continue to improve our service for you and others.

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