European Court Opinion Sides With Google ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Limits

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The Court of Justice of the European Union. Credit: CJEU

In a preliminary opinion, the court finds that delisted search results only need to be made inaccessible for users within Europe

The European Union’s controversial “right to be forgotten” should not be enforceable outside the EU, according to a preliminary European Court of Justice opinion.

Rulings by the ECJ, in Luxembourg, generally endorse preliminary opinions.

The case grows out of a penalty levied against Google by France’s data protection bureau, the CNIL,  for failing to remove listings from across its domains.

Free speech advocates have argued worldwide enforceability would encourage censorship by oppressive regimes.

The Court of Justice of the European Union. Credit: CJEU
General view of the buildings of the Court of Justice of the European Communities

Worldwide ‘de-referencing’

In the opinion ECJ advocate general Maciej Szpunar said the right to be forgotten must be taken in balance with other “fundamental rights”, such as data protection and the public interest in accessing information.

He said worldwide “de-referencing” could make it impossible for EU authorities to judge such a balance.

He argued  “the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine”, but only to “ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU”.

The CNIL fined Google 100,000 euros in 2016 for failing to remove references across all its domains.

The search engine instead imposed geo-blocking measures aimed at preventing users within the EU from accessing the de-listed results.

Limits

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

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.

Free speech group Article 19 said the advocate general was right to “place limits” on the scope of de-referencing.

“European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see,” the group stated.

Google said its geo-blocking measures, which can be circumvented through technical measures, ensured “99 percent effectiveness”.

The law allows individuals to ask for the removal of search results on themselves that are considered “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”.

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