European Court of Justice: Search Engines Should Be Allowed To Limit ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

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Last Thursday, a preliminary opinion in the European Court of Justice found that Google and other search engines should be allowed to limit the requests of users to delete outdated or irrelevant search results to only those that are existing within the European Union.

The so-called right to be forgotten was established in 2014. It requires the search engines in Europe to accept and review requests from users to take down the results that mention their name while balancing out with laws on the right of the public to know.

In 2016, CNIL, a French data protection agency, imposed a fine on Google for not being able to extend this process to global domains, on the basis that only taking down results in regional subdomains including www.google.fr did not comply with the law effectively.

While the appeal of Google against the fine was heard by the ECJ in 2018, a decision has yet to be made. Last Thursday, Maciej Szpunar, an Advocate general, gave an opinion in favour of the tech giant. He said that searches that are made from outside the European Union should not be affected by the de-listing of data as requested under the controversial policy.

Szpunar continued: “The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought.”

He said that if worldwide de-listing was allowed, authorities in the European Union may have a hard time to ascertain the balance between a public’s right to know and the right of an individual to be forgotten when faced with new requests. Google should now make sure that it has effective measures in place to carry out the law, including geo-blocking on search requests that are from outside the European Union.

The global head of technology at London law firm Linklaters, Richard Cumbley, said that a worldwide extension of the law risked allowing other states to attempt and suppress search results and affect the right to access information.

While the ECJ is not obligated to rule in accordance with the opinion of Szunpar, it is likely that they will eventually follow suit. A ruling is normally announced within two to four months after an opinion.

As response to the opinion, the senior privacy counsel of Google, Peter Fleischer, stated: “Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other organisations that have made their views known in this case.”

He added: “We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99 per cent effectiveness.”