CJEU upholds ‘right to be forgotten’

June 2014



The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled Google must amend some search results at the request of ordinary people in a test of the the application of the so-called “right to be forgotten” on the search giant. In a now already criticised ruling, the CJEU  said links to “inadequate, “irrelevant” and outdated (“no longer relevant”) or excessive data should be erased on request. The board of 13 judges ruled that information could be suppressed under the 1995 Privacy Directive and subject to data protection rules, even if it was ‘true, accurate and lawfully published’ saying

[T]he activity of a search engine consisting in finding information published or placed on the internet by third parties, indexing it automatically, storing it temporarily and, finally, making it available to internet users according to a particular order of preference must be classified as ‘processing of personal data’ within the meaning of Article 2(b[of the Data Protection Directive] when that information contains personal data and, second, the operator of the search engine must be regarded as the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing, within the meaning of Article 2(d).


According to the Court:

the operator of a search engine is obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, also in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.”

The case was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who complained that a search of his name in Google brought up newspaper articles from 16 years ago when his home was repossessed to recover taxes he owed. He said the matter had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him. The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, welcomed the court’s decision in a post on Facebook, saying it was a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans” Google said the ruling was “disappointing” and campaign group Index on Censorship condemned the decision, saying it “violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression” adding “It allows individuals to complain to search engines about information they do not like with no legal oversight”  and “This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books.” Writing in the i newspaper, Jane Merrick suggested that the ruling could allow pop stars, celebrities and politicians to “delete an embarrassing or awkward reference to their past pointing out “Imagine for example if the stream of UKIP candidates recently exposed for dubious views on race, homosexuality and women were able to airbrush the links to those dodgy comments; Voters would have been none the wiser about their views” saying the ruling could be used as a backdoor privacy by  public figures with images to protect. Influential Tory Eurosceptic MP Dominic Raab said: “This ruling is a draconian attack on free speech and transparency, totally at odds with Britain’s liberal tradition. It highlights the increasingly authoritarian dimension to the EU, which threatens basic freedoms we have long taken for granted.”

The BBC has reported that the main beneficiaries of this decision so far seem to be criminals, including paedophiles, and that “more than half of the requests sent to Google from UK individuals involved convicted criminals”, although they did not provide any information on whether those convictions were spent or otherwise historical but give an example of a man convicted of possessing child abuse images who had also asked for links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.


http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/14/tech-firms-hate-google-verdict-right-to-be-forgotten  and http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/05/14/five-key-questions-about-the-european-court-of-justices-google-decision/  and on the IP Kat Does the Google data protection ruling mean anything copyright-wisehttp://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/does-google-data-protection-ruling-mean.html and more from Darren Meale here http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/to-oblivion-and-beyond-google-and-right.html

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