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Uruguayan President-elect Luis Lacalle Pou takes a selfie during the announcement of his incoming cabinet, in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 2019. His party is seeking to introduce the "right to be forgotten" in a hasty legislative process, raising press freedom concerns. (Reuters/Mariana Greif)

Uruguay’s incoming government must consider press freedom in draft ‘urgency law’

February 6, 2020 4:11 PM ET

Miami, February 6, 2020—A proposed law introducing the so-called “right to be forgotten” in Uruguay could have negative implications for the work of journalists and access to information online, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On January 22, the National Party of Uruguay, whose candidate Luis Lacalle Pou won the November 2019 presidential election, published a draft urgency law (Ley de Urgente Consideración) on its website ahead of the new government taking office on March 1. Uruguay’s Constitution allows the president to propose urgent laws which pass automatically if not rejected or substituted after an abbreviated debate of no more than 90 days in the legislature.

Among hundreds of provisions, the draft establishes the “right to be forgotten,” which would allow individuals who find online information about themselves that they consider “inadequate, inaccurate, outdated or excessive” to ask search engines to suppress it in relevant search results. The bill says the nature of the information and the public interest would be taken into account, but does not expand on how this would work or who would prevent possible abuse.

CPJ has found the ability to scrub personal information from the internet can weaken “one of journalism's most powerful research tools” and “harms journalists by enabling the censorship of links to their work.” Several regional free expression organizations have called on the incoming lawmakers in Uruguay to postpone discussion of the provision to allow “more information and analysis time, as well as a robust debate with the participation of multiple stakeholders.”

“The so-called right to be forgotten is deeply problematic for journalists, and naming it in this law without procedure or guidance introduces significant scope for abuse,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in Asunción, Paraguay. “Uruguayan officials risk damaging the country’s record as a free expression champion in the hemisphere, and instead could set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the region.”

CPJ emailed a request for comment to an address on the National Party website, but received no response before publication.

Standards for a Free, Open and Inclusive Internet” established by the office of the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, indicate that the “right to be forgotten” can only be adopted on “an absolutely exceptional basis.” Laws should be “clear, specific, and limited” in order to respect the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, according to the standards.

CPJ has hailed Uruguay’s legislative record in recent years following the passage of laws forbidding censorship, decriminalizing defamation, and making strong guarantees for freedom of expression.

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