This 2013 photo shows Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

WHEN EUROPEAN authorities demanded that Google remove links people found unflattering from its search results last year, that was bad enough for the public’s access to information. Now, a French agency has gone much further: Not only must Google truncate its search results on European Google Web sites, it must do so for every site Google runs worldwide. This decision is a dangerous precedent for Internet freedom that should not stand — and if it does, Google must preserve the integrity of the sites it operates outside of European borders.

Since European Union judges commanded Google to respect E.U. citizens’ “right to be forgotten,” the company has had to field tens of thousands of privacy requests from people who want their Google results cleaned up. The company has declined many people who want links to, say, old news stories or other public records removed from the pages Google returns when others search for their names. But it has approved many requests also.

The danger is obvious: Google, not to mention other companies, has little business incentive to do the right thing and err on the side of upholding public access to information when possible. It would be simpler and cheaper for Google and others in its business to acquiesce more often, regardless of how this would affect the public record. So far, the company seems to be conscientiously sorting through requests. But that could change.

European requirements, moreover, are more of a barrier to accessing information than a guarantee of privacy, which would require more extensive regulation that would deeply undercut freedom of speech. News and other Web sites do not have to take down their content. Google just has to make it somewhat harder to find. In return for the deeply concerning precedent of Google adjusting its search results according to government dictates, and in return for the damage to the comprehensive nature of search results, Europeans aren’t even gaining all that much.

That may be why France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) turned the screws harder on Google last week. The French privacy authority demanded that Google not only remove links from European-facing Google Web sites, such as, but from every Google search site across the world, including the United States’s This is an astounding case of regulatory overreach that the censors in China, Russia and elsewhere must be cheering. The French state is demanding changes to non-French Web sites.

“Contrary to what Google has stated, this decision does not show any willingness on the part of the CNIL to apply French law extraterritorially,” the French authority insisted. “It simply requests full observance of European legislation by non-European players offering their services in Europe.” Yet CNIL’s decision has the effect of applying European legal restrictions to every Google user everywhere.

Google can and should appeal CNIL’s decision to higher European judges. If the company loses, it should find a way to comply that doesn’t affect the Google results the rest of us can see, which may mean blocking Europeans’ access to non-European Google sites. That would be better than censoring them.