E.U. court says Internet users have ‘right to be forgotten’

People should have some say over the results that pop up when they conduct a search of their own name online, Europe's highest court said Tuesday. The landmark decision means that Google must listen and sometimes comply to individual requests. (AP)

 

A European court has ruled that Google must comply with requests from ordinary people to amend some search results containing links to outdated, irrelevant information, the Associated Press reported.

At issue was whether Google has control over users’ private information, a right that belongs to individuals under European Union law.

In an advisory judgment stemming from a Spanish case, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that the way Google and other search engines systematically compile and present links suggests they do have control over individuals’ private data.

More details from the AP:

The court found that under European law, individuals have a right to control over their private data, especially if they are not a public figures. If they want irrelevant or wrong personal information about themselves “forgotten” from search engine results, they have the right to request it — even if the information was legally published.

People “may address such a request directly to the operator of the search engine … which must then duly examine its merits,” the ruling said.

Whether or not the request should be granted will depend “on the nature of the information in question and its sensitivity for the data subject’s private life and on the interest of the public in having that information, an interest which may vary,” it said.

Google must remove links to pages containing the information from results “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public in having access to the information when such a search is made,” the court said.

Google had argued that it doesn’t control the private data of individuals, but just provides links to information that is already legally available for free online.

Google has also said forcing it to remove data would be censorship, the BBC reported.

Google supporters have warned that requiring the company to delete information on request could result in all sorts of data being deleted for spurious reasons and make Google responsible for the content it indexes, Reuters reported in February 2013 after a Spanish court ruled against the American Internet giant.

Google challenged the Spanish court’s decision and the case was referred to the European Union Court of Justice last year.

The case was based on a complaint by a Spanish man whose Google search of his own name turned up a 16-year-old notice that his home was being auctioned off for failure to pay taxes. Mario Costeja claimed that the reference to the debt, which had long been settled, violated his privacy.

The case was brought on Costeja’s behalf by Spain’s data protection authority, which has fielded 200 similar complaints.

It was an important test of the so-called “right to be forgotten,” a pillar of new data privacy rules proposed by the European Commission in 2012 and approved by the commission in March. To become law, the proposal must be adopted by the Council of Ministers.

Recently, Brazil also approved new data privacy rules. The Brazilian Senate voted unanimously in April to adopt an “Internet Constitution” that requires Internet companies to comply with court orders to remove offensive or libelous material.

According to Reuters, the move was prompted by revelations that the United States was spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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