Europe’s Top Court Considers ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Cases

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Google is contesting efforts to extend the right to be forgotten to non-European search domains, as well as tougher measures on the removal of sensitive data

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is set on Tuesday to consider two key cases relating to the “right to be forgotten”, which has been heavily contested between free-speech advocates and privacy activists.

The right to be forgotten was established in 2014, when the ECJ determined that a Spanish individual had the right to have newspaper articles from 1998 removed from Google’s search results.

The court ruled in his favour, saying material that was “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” should be delisted on request.

Google has continued to fight the ruling for the past four years, and notably will only remove listings from European domains, so that the material in question may be found via other Google domains, such as Google.com.

The Court of Justice of the European Union. Credit: CJEUSensitive information

The ECJ is to consider the question of whether material must be removed globally, as well as a second question: whether sensitive personal data should be removed on request without considering issues of public interest.

Such sensitive information could include political orientation, sexuality, health information, or criminal record.

Four people are requesting that sensitive data be removed in cases referred to the ECJ by France’s highest court. The cases include information about a relationship involving a public figure and articles about criminal proceedings and convictions.

Google — which currently makes its own decisions about whether to remove material — said that approving such applications would ignore the legitimate interests of the public.

Doing so “would give carte blanche to people who might wish to use privacy laws to hide information of public interest — such as a politician’s political views, or a public figure’s criminal record”, Google said.

Global removal?

The second case also originates from France, from the country’s data protection authority, the CNIL, which fined Google 100,000 euros (£89,000) in 2016 for its refusal to delist information across all its global domains.

Google said that applying European law to its non-European domains could lead other governments to  demand the same treatment in order “to try to impose their values on citizens in the rest of the world”.

Free speech grounp Article 19 called such an extension of the right to be forgotten “disproportionate”.

“European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what internet users around the world find when they use a search engine,” said Article 19 executive director Thomas Hughes.

He called on the ECJ to “limit the scope” of the right to be forgotten.

High Court decisions

Since the ECJ’s 2014 ruling, Google said it has handled nearly 722,000 applications to remove a total of 2.75 million web addresses, almost 90 percent of which were filed by private individuals.

The company said it has complied with 44 percent of the requests.

In April the UK’s High Court ruled in favour of an anonymous claimant who wanted links to news articles about a past conviction removed.

The same court ruled against another claimant who had been convicted of a more serious crime at an earlier date.

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