Expungement and "Right to be Forgotten"

Expungement and the "Right to Be Forgotten"

Today, there is little information about you that can’t be found with the click of a mouse. What, then, is the benefit of expunging a criminal record?

The answer to this question is going to depend on whether the arrest and subsequent court proceedings were covered by the media.

Take the case of Park Forest Police Officer Craig Taylor. Officer Taylor shot and killed John Wrana, a 95-year-old WWII vet and nursing home resident. Wrana’s death and Officer Taylor’s trial were widely covered.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote several columns about Officer Taylor. The last column he wrote questioned the fairness of Officer Taylor expunging his arrest record three months after his acquittal on felony reckless conduct charges. 

Here, Kass overstates the benefits of expunging a criminal record that received significant news coverage.  Kass contends the case “has been wiped clean, our public, official memory of the charges are void" as a result of the expungement. Yet, he also concedes that the news stories and the columns written about the case remain available on the Internet.

Does Anyone have a Right to Be Forgotten?

Unlike Europeans, U.S. residents have no legal “right to be forgotten” on the Internet. Last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that its residents have the right to ask search engines (e.g.,  Google) to remove links to unwanted personal data.

In the year since the court ruling, Google received more than 253,000 requests. Just because a request is made doesn’t obligate Google to remove the information. Rather, the information has to be shown to be inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive. To date, only 40% of those requests have been granted by Google.

Not surprisingly, links to criminal conduct are often asked to be removed. Google has not been inclined to remove this information. Google has removed information pertaining to someone’s private address, religious or political beliefs (when published against his/her will).  In practice, the “right to be forgotten” has not proven as cleansing as some believed.

As it stands, expungement and the "right to be forgotten" can't remove links to criminal conduct.  Fortunately, most criminal cases don't receive the media attention Officer Taylor got.

Even when an arrest record is reported in the local newspaper, there are ways to keep this information from rising to the top of a Google search.

Some employers may Google you but most will hire a company to check your criminal background.  Because these companies are required to use reliable information, they search court records and state police criminal data.

While expungement can't remove unfavorable links it will help you "pass" a criminal background check.