Google Defeated In ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ London Court Case

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Wins one, loses one, in London High Court as Google is told to remove links to criminal convictions

Google has experienced mixed results in a legal battle in London over two “right to be forgotten” cases involving two separate businessmen.

One of the businessmen succeeded in getting Google to delete the online search results involving his criminal convictions, but another businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence lost his attempt to get Google to remove search results pertaining to his case.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ was made into law in May 2014, when the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled that search engine operators (Google, Bing etc) were responsible for links to web pages that contained personal information, and should therefore remove such links on request of the information owners.

Erase delete forget right to be forgotten key © Sarawut Aiemsinsuk Shutterstock

Court decision

Google for its part has previously protested against the law, but later began publishing transparency reports to show how it was (reluctantly) complying with the ECJ order.

Fast forward a number of years and Google lost a landmark “right to be forgotten” case that could have wide-ranging repercussions.

The ruling was made by Mr Justice Warby in London’s High Court on Friday, the Guardian newspaper reported.

However the judge rejected a similar claim brought by a second businessman who was jailed for a more serious offence.

The claimant who lost, who for legal reasons was referred to as NT1, had been convicted of conspiracy to account falsely in the late 1990s. NT1 had been jailed for four years.

The second claimant who won, known as NT2, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiracy to intercept communications. He had only been jailed for six months.

The judge however granted NT1 the right to appeal his decision, stating: “It is quite likely that there will be more claims of this kind, and the fact that NT2 has succeeded is likely to reinforce that.”

Essentially, both men had been demanding that Google remove search results mentioning the cases for which they were convicted. This included search results linking to newspaper articles of their respective cases.

Google refused their request and the men took the search engine giant to the high court.

Mr Justice Warby ruled out any damages payment, but the victory for NT2 is expected to have implications for other convicted criminals, and those who want embarrassing stories about them erased from the web.

No remorse

The judge was clear in his reasoning for refusing allow the ‘right to be forgotten’ to NT1, who is apparently still continuing to mislead the public. NT2 on the other hand apparently has shown remorse, and his conviction was an invasion of privacy.

“There is not [a] plausible suggestion … that there is a risk that this wrongdoing will be repeated by the claimant. The information is of scant if any apparent relevance to any business activities that he seems likely to engage in,” the judge was reported by the Guardian as saying.

He said his key conclusion in relation to NT2’s claim was that “the crime and punishment information has become out of date, irrelevant and of no sufficient legitimate interest to users of Google search to justify its continued availability”.

But this was not the case for NT1, as the judge was apparently scathing about the claimant’s position since leaving prison. “He has not accepted his guilt, has misled the public and this court, and shows no remorse over any of these matters,” he said.

“He remains in business, and the information serves the purpose of minimising the risk that he will continue to mislead, as he has in the past. Delisting would not erase the information from the record altogether, but it would make it much harder to find.”

Search engine firms can reject “right to be forgotten” applications if they believe the public interest in accessing the information outweighs a right to privacy.

“We work hard to comply with the right to be forgotten, but we take great care not to remove search results that are in the public interest and will defend the public’s right to access lawful information,” a Google spokesperson told the Guardian. “We are pleased that the court recognised our efforts in this area, and we will respect the judgements they have made in this case.”

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