EU Court Forces Search Engines to Remove Links Under “Right to be Forgotten” Ruling

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The European Court of Justice made a ruling Tuesday that will affect how search engines operate in Europe. The “right to be forgotten” was argued by plaintiffs and gives people the right to request old information be removed from search engines. The ruling only affects search results, the original link would not be removed or altered.

The ruling comes after a 2011 request from a Spanish court about EU privacy laws. Cases were brought by 180 people who were unhappy with search results. One example includes links to a 1998 announcement that disclosed disputed social security debts of Costeja González published by the La Vanguardia. The judgement is based on a 1995 data protection law that provides the right to request the removal of certain information.

Europe has stringent privacy laws  that may become even more rigorous. Momentum is building in Europe to adopt an even more far-reaching privacy laws. Already under negotiation by lawmakers is a policy that includes a tougher so-called right to be forgotten, or “erasure” as it is termed in draft legislation, that also would apply to companies like Facebook.

This is a critical ruling for American companies like Google since it basically requires them to operate under different rules based on the country in which they are displaying search results. Companies will have to assume the costs and responsibility for removing links that are under complaint. Some companies like Microsoft have already gone to the trouble of making sure their contracts adhere to EU standards.

European companies have an edge when it comes to compliance and are already used to the privacy and data laws. Need to adhere to EU standards has already created some powerful partnerships between cloud providers and European tech companies.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the decision “makes grim reading for Google and will delight privacy advocates in the EU,” said Richard Cumbley, information-management and data-protection partner at UK law firm Linklaters.

Individuals will be able to request that search engines take down any web pages containing information about them when searched by name. Examples would be legal announcements and court cases.

The ruling left some room for interpretation saying that there needs to be a balance between public interest and the impact that such information can have on people’s lives.This ambiguity will make it extra difficult for companies trying to figure out whether they need to comply. European courts will now need to implement the ruling.

“This sounds like a landmark judgment,’’ Peter Hustinx, a top European Union official for data protection told the New York Times. “The court is saying that Google isn’t just selling adverts in Europe, but is providing content along with those services. If you are a regular citizen, it gives you a remedy anywhere in Europe for you to ask companies to take down content connected to you.”

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