Google Wins Significant Victory In ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Case

Google has won a significant legal victory in the European Union’s controversial “right to be forgotten” legal case.

The ruling comes from Europe’s top court, namely the European Court of Justice (ECJ), when it said that Google does not have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.

The ruling is a significant victory for Google and other campaigners, who have long argued that the EU’s right to be forgotten law when it is applied globally, would encourage censorship by oppressive regimes.

ECJ ruling

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 (such as 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.

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.

The case has now been judged by the ECJ, and its landmark ruling against global implementation of the EU law was not unexpected.

In January this year the Luxembourg-based ECJ had issued a preliminary opinion that the European Union’s controversial “right to be forgotten” should not be enforceable outside the EU.

Rulings by the ECJ generally endorse preliminary opinions.

And so it is the case after the ECJ issued its landmark ruling on the matter this week.

“Thus, the Court concludes that, currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject, as the case may be, following an injunction from a supervisory or judicial authority of a Member State, to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” said the ruling.

“However, EU law requires a search engine operator to carry out such a de-referencing on the versions of its search engine corresponding to all the Member States,” it added.

What this all means essentially is that Google has remove links from its search results in European members states – and not elsewhere in the world – after receiving an appropriate takedown request.

Censorship battle?

The case began in 2015 when France’s data protection bureau, the CNIL, ordered Google to globally remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person.

Google introduced a geoblocking feature that prevented European users from being able to see delisted links.

But it refused to censor search results around the world, which led the CNIL to impose a 100,000 euro (£88,000) fine on Google, for failing to remove search results from across its domains globally.

Google then applied to the ECJ for the fine to be overturned.

Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses, were it to be applied outside of Europe.

“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” Google was quoted as saying by the BBC in a statement following the ECJ ruling.

“It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments.”

Google has been inundated with millions of “right to be forgotten” requests since 2014, when the “right to be forgotten” was instituted following a court case in Spain.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

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

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