Case of Anthony – Spent convictions are still available online, even after complaining to the ICO

Anthony contacted us at the end of 2016, when he needed some advice about getting links to his name removed.

He had been convicted of a sexual offence in 2000 and received a short prison sentence. His conviction became spent in 2004. Since his conviction, Anthony has significantly turned his life around. He has completed two Masters degree’s and is currently assisting with a university research project. He is married with children as well as step-children and has mostly been in employment since his conviction, holding positions of responsibility and trust.

However, the existence of a link to his name online continues to have a devastating effect on his attempts to re-build his life. He has had to face awkward questions from his step-children and family members who have come across stories about him whilst doing online searches.

On two separate occasions job offers have been withdrawn as a direct result of potential employers doing ‘informal’ online Google searches. Anthony said:

“These links are having a serious impact on my health and well-being. I’m in a constant state of anxiety, wondering who will come across this material about me online”.

Using the information and advice we provided him with, Anthony applied to Google to request that the links to his name be removed on the basis that:-

  1. The offence occurred nearly 20 years ago
  2. The conviction was spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in 2004
  3. The conviction was his only one and he posed no risk of re-offending or a danger to the public.

Google refused to remove the links and Anthony made a complaint to the ICO.

Several weeks later, he received a copy of a letter that the ICO had sent to Google supporting Anthony’s case and requesting that Google remove the links. However, his success was short-lived when Google responded to the ICO refusing to remove the links as they believed that Anthony’s conviction remained of public interest especially as he had been working ‘in a position of trust’ when they occurred. The ICO agreed with Google and the links to his name remain online.

Commenting on Anthony’s experience, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Anthony’s case highlights challenges in the way that both Google and the ICO are dealing with certain convictions. At the moment, if both Google and the ICO refuse to remove links then the only option is to make an application to the court under Section 10(4) of the Data Protection Act 1998 and seek an order requiring an organisation to cease processing your personal details. There are possible legal remedies for the online publication of spent convictions which we’re taking forward as part of our policy work.”

 

Notes about this case

  1. This case relates to Unlock’s policy work on the google effect.
  2. We have practical guidance on dealing with information on the internet, online and through search engines like Google.
  3. Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
  4. Other policy cases are listed here.
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