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The Right to Be Forgotten

In today’s digital era, where information is readily accessible, the “Right to be Forgotten” (RTBF) concept has emerged as a crucial aspect of privacy rights. RTBF allows individuals to request the removal of their data from the internet, ensuring that outdated or irrelevant information does not perpetually affect their lives. This right is particularly significant in light of the growing digital footprint that individuals leave behind.

What is ‘Right to be Forgotten’?

The “right to be forgotten,” also referred to as the “right to be left alone” or the “right to erasure,” has been prominently featured in recent Indian legal discourse. Originating in the European Union, this right was notably referenced in the landmark Google Spain case. In this case, the European Court of Justice directed Google to remove links to private information upon request from European citizens, provided the information was no longer relevant. This right was subsequently enshrined in Article 17 of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2016, giving it formal statutory recognition.

RTBF in International Context

The RTBF gained international prominence following the 2014 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Google Spain case. The principle was subsequently enshrined in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which codifies RTBF as a statutory right. According to the GDPR, individuals can request data deletion when it is no longer necessary or relevant.

RTBF in India

India has yet to fully legislate RTBF, although it has made strides towards recognizing this right. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, acknowledges RTBF by allowing individuals to restrict or prevent the continued disclosure of their data by data fiduciaries. This right is subject to the approval of an adjudicating officer from the Data Protection Authority (DPA), who assesses various factors including the sensitivity of the data and the individual’s role in public life.

Judicial Recognition in India

Indian Courts have started to recognize RTBF in various cases. For instance, the Gujarat High Court in Dharamraj Bhanushankar Dave v. State of Gujarat did not recognize RTBF when the petitioner sought to prevent the publication of a non-reportable judgment online. Conversely, the Karnataka High Court, in Vasunathan v. High Court of Karnataka, upheld RTBF by ordering the removal of a petitioner’s daughter’s name from case titles to protect her reputation.

The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India in 2017 declared the right to privacy as a Fundamental Right under Article 21. The Court suggested that RTBF could be derived from this Fundamental Right, although it must be balanced against other rights such as freedom of speech and public interest.

Pros and Cons of the Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF)


  • Control Over Personal Information: Empowers individuals to manage the accessibility of their data online.
  • Removal of Defamatory Content: Enables the deletion of harmful and libelous information from the internet.
  • Elimination of Illegally Posted Content: Provides a mechanism to remove content uploaded without consent.
  • Fresh Start Opportunity: Allows individuals to erase past mistakes and start anew.
  • Protection of Sensitive Information: Helps secure personal and financial details that could pose security risks.


  • Conflict with Public Interest: Balancing privacy needs against the public’s right to access information can be challenging.
  • Restriction on Freedom of Expression: Potential to limit journalistic freedom and the sharing of information.
  • Conceptual Ambiguity: RTBF is still evolving with few legal precedents.
  • Operational Delays: Search engines may take time to process and remove information due to high request volumes.
  • Transparency Issues: Could obscure significant information about entities, affecting public knowledge and business transparency.

Challenges and Considerations

Implementing RTBF involves balancing individual privacy with the public interest. Judicial records, for example, are public documents and cannot be erased without undermining public trust in the judicial system. Additionally, the conflict between RTBF and the right to information is a significant challenge, as the latter is essential for a transparent society.

The Way Forward

For RTBF to be effectively enforced in India, comprehensive data protection legislation is necessary. This law should balance the right to privacy under Article 21 with the right to information under Article 19. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, if enacted, could provide a robust framework for RTBF, allowing individuals to manage their digital footprints while safeguarding the public’s right to information.


The RTBF is an essential aspect of privacy in the digital age, enabling individuals to remove outdated or irrelevant information from public access. While well-established in the EU, India is still in the process of formally recognizing and implementing this right. A comprehensive approach that balances individual rights with public interest is crucial for the effective enforcement of RTBF in India. As digital footprints continue to expand, the need for such protections becomes increasingly critical.

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What do you mean by Right to be Forgotten?

The "right to be forgotten" or "the right to be erased" allows an individual to request the removal of their personal information or data from online platforms.

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