EU court backs 'right to be forgotten' in Google case


Rory Cellan-Jones: "One can be sure that Google's lawyers will be trying to find a way out of this"

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A top EU court has ruled Google must amend some search results at the request of ordinary people in a test of the so-called "right to be forgotten".

The European Union Court of Justice said links to "irrelevant" and outdated data should be erased on request.

The case was brought by a Spanish man who complained that an auction notice of his repossessed home on Google's search results infringed his privacy.

Google said the ruling was "disappointing".

Backers of the "right to be forgotten" are celebrating this ruling. EU Commissioner Viviane Reding has called it "a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans".

But the judgement could have huge consequences for anyone who publishes material online about individuals, and they will urgently be asking their lawyers exactly what it means.

Can anyone who does not like an old story about them simply demand that it is wiped away? That does appear to be the case - the ruling says the rights of the individual are paramount when it comes to their control over their personal data, although there is a public interest defence when it comes to people in public life.

Google, having won at earlier stages of this legal battle, is both surprised and furious at this outcome. But it isn't clear that the search firm can do anything about it.

"We now need to take time to analyse the implications," a spokesperson added.


The search engine says it does not control data, it only offers links to information freely available on the internet.

It has previously said forcing it to remove data amounts to censorship.

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".

"The ruling confirms the need to bring today's data protection rules from the "digital stone age" into today's modern computing world," she said.

The European Commission proposed a law giving users the "right to be forgotten" in 2012.

It would require search engines to edit some searches to make them compliant with the European directive on the protection of personal data.

In its judgement on Tuesday, the court in Luxembourg said people had the right to request information be removed if it appeared to be "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant".

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A right to be forgotten?
European Court of Justice, Luxembourg
  • In 2012, the European Commission published plans for a "right to be forgotten" law, allowing people to request that data about themselves to be deleted
  • Online service providers would have to comply unless they had "legitimate" reason to do otherwise
  • The plans are part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the commission's 1995 Data Protection Directive
  • UK's Ministry of Justice claims that the law "raises unrealistic and unfair expectations"
  • Some tech firms have expressed concern about the reach of the bill
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BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones says the ruling has huge consequences for anyone who publishes material online about individuals.

Start Quote

From Google's perspective, a nightmare potentially awaits, given the possibility that floods of requests are about to come its way”

End Quote

It appears to say that anyone who does not like an old story about them can ask for it to be wiped away, he adds.

The judgement stresses that the rights of the individual are paramount when it comes to their control over their personal data, although there is a public interest defence when it comes to people in public life.

'No legal oversight'

The ruling came after Mario Costeja Gonzalez complained that a search of his name in Google brought up newspaper articles from 16 years ago about a sale of property to recover money he owed.

He said the matter had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him.

Campaign group Index on Censorship condemned the decision, saying it "violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression".

"It allows individuals to complain to search engines about information they do not like with no legal oversight," it said.

"This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books."

Mr Gonzalez's case is one of scores of similar cases in Spain whose complainants want Google to delete their personal information from their search results.

The court said people should address any request for data to be removed to the operator of the search engine, which must then examine its merits.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    I dont believe its Googles responsibility to censor search results whether it be personal requests, DMCA requests or other things.

    However Google cant complain this is censorship when they already censor their users to other content.

    The courts just dont understand that censoring the public via a Search engine does NOTHING to Stop/Remove or distribute the original content

    Tackle the root cause!

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    All Google is doing is searching publicly available information and providing the results, if a bit of information should be removed from public record it isn't Google's responsibility to do it, it's the entity that published it. The problem is there are so many different standards and even lack of standards depending on the source. But of course they don't have deep pockets to fine like Google.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    How can Google claim it's a form of censorship if it will be individuals rather than governments asking them to delete data?

    People's lives change over time, so the information about them online needs to change as well. There's still some posting that I made on some political forums years ago that I'd liked to be removed because it states political views I no longer hold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    When the dust settles this is likely to be entirely meaningless judgment.

    Google, if it has not already, will simply restructure its business so that all that exists in EU is an advertising sales business. The EU will have no power to enforce the judgment.

    Future historians will not thank us for deleting information because what is irrelevant now may be very relevant in 100 years time

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    The court ruling should also force Google to establish a clear and simple way to contact them to request information to be removed. Often times big sites like this give you the go-around and send you automatic replies that are not relevant to your request. These companies should be audited to make sure they are following the law and making these options clearly and easily available to the public


Comments 5 of 14


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