Under the new law, a person will be entitled to request internet search engine providers to remove references to websites containing ‘inaccurate’ or ‘irrelevant’ information about them, as well as data that has become ‘outdated in the course of subsequent events’.
Doing business in Russia has always presented significant reputational and regulatory risks for corporates operating within the confines of anti-corruption legislation such as the US’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the UK Bribery Act. Despite this, there is anecdotal evidence of businesses making investment decisions on the back of Google searches. Not that ‘Googling’ was ever a reliable research method, but it is about to get even more unreliable.
On 3 July 2015, the Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, passed a bill granting individuals the ’right to be forgotten’. The new legislation is modelled on the 2014 decision of the European Court of Justice of the European Union in Google Spain v AEPD and Mario Costeja González. Under the new law, a person will be entitled to request internet search engine providers to remove references to websites containing ‘inaccurate’ or ‘irrelevant’ information about them, as well as data that has become ‘outdated in the course of subsequent events’. Links to information about unspent convictions or potential recent criminal offences are exempt, however. If the search engine provider refuses, the person will be entitled to petition the local court to compel them to remove such links.
The new legislation is aimed squarely at Google and its Russian arch-rival, Yandex, but will make it increasingly difficult to gain a balanced view of the people with whom you are doing business. For example, according to one of the authors of the bill, former state officials will be entitled to ask for links to information about their career to be purged. Therefore, once the bill comes into force, on 1 January 2016, relying on public sources of data to obtain accurate information on individuals in Russia will get harder, increasing the risks of hiring staff, starting new business ventures or, indeed, forming any new business relationships.
The timing of the new bill is unfortunate. It does nothing to improve transparency of business environment in Russia or its image abroad. Of course President Putin may not sign the bill into law but given how it has been sold to the wider public this is unlikely.