Google has won a legal case in the European Union over the so-called “right to be forgotten,” a concept that allows people in Europe to request the removal of old news from the internet which might be harmful to their reputations or otherwise just be embarrassing. The European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, has ruled this morning that while Google must delist links in Europe, it doesn’t have to do the same globally.
“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... to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the European Court of Justice said today, according to France 24. “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.”
The case started in 2016 when France’s privacy watchdog, the National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties, (CNIL) fined Google 100,000 euros for not delisting links globally after they’d been scrubbed for European users. The French government was concerned that people could use tools like a VPN to search outside of France and still find the links that had been removed, but Google argued that each country should have the right to manage digital information in its own way.
“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,” Peter Fleischer, Senior Privacy Counsel at Google, told Gizmodo via email.
“It’s good to see that the Court agreed with our arguments, and we’re grateful to the independent human rights organisations, media associations and many others around the world who also presented their views to the Court.”
Obviously, a big concern with the concept of the “right to be forgotten” is that people can abuse the law to dictate what kind of information is available about them. While reasonable people might be sympathetic to the argument that someone acquitted for a crime should have the right to start life anew without a false accusation hanging over their heads, the law still infringes on the rights of others to speak and write freely about public topics. And that’s to say nothing of people who were rightly convicted of a crime who might abuse the system and ask that their convictions be purged from the internet.
Google has received requests to delist over 3.3 million links in Europe since May of 2014, according to the company’s transparency reports, and has approved the removal of 45 per cent. There is no “right to be forgotten” law in the United States so don’t even bother filing a request for information to be deleted if you’re an American.
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