Google and other search engine providers can be ordered to delete links to outdated information about a person published on the Internet, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled.
The decision this week by the European Court of Justice on what has been dubbed ‘the right to be forgotten’ is a landmark judgement which I predict will see a sea-change in the way search engines, social networking sites and other websites hold information that is deemed in the public interest or not. The digital revolution has advanced at such a rapid rate that it seems legislative reforms have not been able to keep up.
So this week’s ruling by the highest court in Europe is a first step in protecting personal data of individuals and surely not the last.
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So who is Costeia González?
The test case privacy ruling by the European Union’s court of justice against Google Spain was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.
Costeja González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google.
He told the Guardian: “Like anyone would be when you tell them they’re right, I’m happy. I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honour, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression.”
The European court judges ruled that under existing EU data protection laws Google has to erase links to two pages on La Vanguardia’s website from the results that are produced when Costeja González’s name is put into the search engine.
The Decision and What it Means
People who want Google or other search engines to forget them by removing search results referring to their names can file a request to do so directly with the operator of the search engine, the EU Court of Justice said Tuesday (13th May 2014) , ruling on Google’s appeal against a decision of the Spanish data protection authority.
The search engine operator has to examine such requests thoroughly to determine if the information displayed about the person is still relevant. If it isn’t, the links to Web pages containing that information must be removed, unless there are particular reasons not to do so, such as when knowing the linked information about a public figure is in the interest of the public, the court said.
The information found in search results potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of a person’s private life that could be very hard to find without the use of a search engine, the court noted.
Search engine operators collect that personal data by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the Internet, the court said. They also process that information when the data is stored on the search engine’s servers and disclosed through a list of search results. The fact that search engines carry out the indexing without distinction in respect of personal data does not matter, the court said.
Google said it was “very surprised” by the ruling that goes against the opinion of the EU advocate general who said last year that there was no universal right to be forgotten.
“This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general,” a Google spokesman said in an emailed statement, adding that the company needed time to analyse the implications.
The court ruled in a case between Mario Costeja González, a Spanish national, and Google. He lodged a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) in 2010 because he wanted the search engine to remove links to a 1998 newspaper article that contained an announcement for a real-estate auction organized following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts owed by him, according to the court.
Because the issue had since been resolved, Costeja González asked the data protection agency to either order the newspaper to remove or alter the pages or order it to block search engines from indexing the pages. He also requested that Google would be ordered to remove or conceal the indexed link from the search results so it would no longer be displayed when someone searched for him on Google, the court said.
While the AEPD rejected the complaint against the newspaper, it did order Google to delete the data from its index. Google subsequently asked Spain’s National High Court to annul the decision and that court referred the case to the Court of Justice.
The court ruled that Google and other search engine operators are in certain cases can be obliged to remove links to third party web pages that contain information relating to a person. Search engines also can be ordered to do so if the when the publication in itself is lawful, the court said.
In the case of Costeja González, the court found that the information displayed by Google about him had become inadequate and irrelevant over time. Therefore, Google was ordered to erase the links.
IDG News Service