The Cleveland Plain Dealer is expanding its “right-to-be-forgotten” experiment, in which it has removed the names of five people from stories on its cleveland.com website about minor crimes they committed. One was someone in the health field who stole drugs from her employer. A judge eventually declared that she had completely rehabilitated herself. He sealed records of her crime so she could move on with her life. As she sought to begin a new career, any Google search of her name brought up our stories about her crime, along with her mug shot. Another was a man who stole some scrap metal years ago, completed his sentence and had his record sealed.
“People should not have to pay for a mistake for the rest of their lives,” wrote Editor Chris Quinn. Cleveland.com content appears high in search engines, meaning that if a story about a minor crime often would be the first thing to appear in searches of a name. For the last two months, the newspaper has removed names from stories if the records of the crimes had been sealed by a judge and did not involve violence, sex crimes or public corruption. The paper has heard from people whose embarrassing stories were not based in the courts, or they were people who were peripheral to a crime story and never charged. No record existed for a judge to seal. Now, the newspaper is setting up a committee to consider requests for removing names from stories where search engines can find them. A committee is warranted because “we want to form a consensus with multiple viewpoints,” Quinn said.