Professional people, particularly doctors, are particularly susceptible to personal attacks on the internet. One classic example where a doctor might need to make an application under a Right to be Forgotten is where a patient convince him or herself that they have a valid complaint against their doctor. After making a formal complaint to the medical practice or to the British Medical Association (BMA) and after the doctor is cleared of any wrongdoing, the patient decides to “name and shame” their doctor, because the patient is unwilling to accept the findings that their doctor acted appropriately.
They go online and post one or two negative reviews about the doctor, naming him or her.
Under a Right to be Forgotten, Google is likely to first refuse to remove those reviews despite their falsity. The reason for this is that a Right to be Forgotten includes an exception which applies to one’s professional life. In other words, there is a presumption that if review relates to a doctor, the Right to be Forgotten does not apply.
However, online reviews about doctors which mention the name of the doctor might have a serious impact on the doctor’s own right to privacy.
The example below is based on a real case, but the facts have been changed to avoid any possibility of our client being identified. Our client, R was a Neurologist. Two years earlier he saw a patient and diagnosed her with what he believed at the time was the most likely medical condition. The patient’s condition subsequently deteriorated and eventually she died. The matter was referred to the coroner, as would be customary under the circumstances.
During the coroner’s hearing, a member of the patient’s family alleged that the doctor’s initial misdiagnoses was the cause of the death. This of course was untrue and the coroner had made no adverse findings against R.
Unfortunately for R, a reporter who sat at the coroner’s court when the allegations were made against R by the family, had reported the allegations in a local newspaper and on the internet.
The result was that every search for R’s name, together with the word “doctor” or neurologist had brought up the reporter’s article, which repeated the member of the family’s claim that R had caused the death of his patient by misdiagnosing her.
This started to cause R serious problems whenever he tried to apply for a promotion.
Google’s initial response to the first application by harassment lawyer Yair Cohen under a Right to be Forgotten was to refuse it. However, following a more formal approach, Google accepted that the correct legal position that there was no public interest in the publication of false information, even if the information is about a doctor, or any other professional person.