Moving on: What can I do about information that’s reported about my offence online?

This month, we’ve written another article for Inside Times ‘Through the Gate’ section which focuses on dealing with information that’s available about you online.

A copy of the article can be found below.

As you prepare to leave prison and start considering applying for jobs or housing, you might also have to think about the risk of an internet search revealing the details of your criminal record.

Although official criminal records are not available online, if there was any media interest in your case then it’s likely that information about you can be found from newspaper articles. We regularly hear from individuals whose employers have carried out ‘Google’ searches as a way of informally checking their criminal records. Even work colleagues and new partners will be able to find out about your past online and let’s be clear – not much printed about you in the media is going to make good reading!

What can you do about the so-called ‘Google-effect’?

In May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that individuals should be able to request the deletion or removal of personal data published online where there was no compelling reason for it to remain. This is often referred to as ‘the right to be forgotten’. Following the ruling, Google (and other search engines) launched a system whereby individuals could request that information about them is removed from search results.

The evidence so far has shown that they will normally refuse your application all the time your conviction is unspent (under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974). That means you’ll have to wait at least a couple of years after release – for example, a 12 month prison sentence given to an adult becomes spent 4 years after the end of the full sentence.

Once spent, we would certainly recommend that you make an application to have the links removed. Even at this point, you’ll still need to outline why you believe the information about you is:

  • Irrelevant – You might want to highlight how it’s no longer necessary for you to disclose your conviction for the types of job you’re applying for; how you’re not a high profile figure and how you’re not a danger to the public. If you can, include evidence of how you’ve changed since your offence.
  • Inappropriate – This might include setting out the length of time since you were convicted; the effect it’s having on you and your family; how it affects your future job prospects and how it is generally having a disproportionate affect on your life.
  • Outdated or not in the public interest.

Other way’s of dealing with the problem

Regardless of the new system, many people with convictions continue to experience difficulties because of their convictions being printed online. This is especially so if you’ve just left prison.

One option you might want to consider is changing your name. Although this won’t get you away from your criminal record (for example, if an employer did a criminal record check then it would still appear if it’s unspent), it does prevent people from getting access to information that they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to.

Another option to think about is trying to flood the internet with alternative, positive stories about yourself to ‘force down’ the reports that relate to your conviction. This could be something as simple as posting comments about articles you’ve read on different websites or being a bit more ambitious and starting a ‘blog on a topic that you’ve got an interest in.

What is Unlock doing to help?

Even once it’s spent, success in removing links to the information isn’t guaranteed. We’ve seen many cases refused. So we’ve been working with a law-firm specialising in this field to advise people with spent convictions on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. We’re taking a small number of claims forward, and the aim is to get a presumption that once it’s spent, it should be removed.

In the meantime, we’re working with employers to make sure that they don’t rely on information that can be found online, and instead encouraging them to have recruitment practices which give applicants the opportunity to explain their past in their own words.

 

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Debbie Sadler