07:06, January 10 134 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-10 07:06:22
'Right to be forgotten' by Google should apply only in EU, says court

The “right to be forgotten”, which enables claimants to request the removal of links to irrelevant or outdated online information about them, should not be enforceable globally, the European court of justice (ECJ) has found in a preliminary opinion.

The controversial power, requiring search engines to prevent access to material on the internet, should be enforceable only in the EU and not worldwide, the court’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, said. Final judgments by the ECJ usually endorse initial opinions.

The case related to a dispute between Google and France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL), with a number of UK and international free speech organisations warning that extending the power could encourage censorship in countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In his opinion, the advocate general said the right to be forgotten must be balanced against other “fundamental rights”, such as the right to data protection, privacy and the legitimate public interest in accessing information.

Szpunar said if worldwide “de-referencing” was allowed, EU authorities would not be able to determine a right to receive information or balance it against other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy.

The case arose after CNIL fined Google €100,000 for failing to remove an individual’s name from all of its domains across the internet. Google only imposed its “geo-blocking” measures on domains accessible from EU states. Google then appealed to the ECJ in Luxembourg to have the fine annulled.

In his decision, the advocate general found for Google, declaring “the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine”. It only had to “ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU”.

The UK-based free speech organisation Article 19 led an intervention by eight non-governmental organisations, which warned of the potential harm to internet users’ rights to access information if Google lost the case.

The ECJ established the “right to be forgotten” in a landmark 2014 ruling relating to a Spanish citizen’s claim against material about him found on Google searches. It allows European citizens to ask search engines to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” content.

Google has been inundated with millions of requests since then to remove material from online searches. ECJ rulings are binding in the UK.

Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article19, said: “We welcome advocate general Szpunar’s opinion that the CJEU should place limits on the scope of de-referencing carried out by search engines.

“European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see. They should only be able to de-list websites within their country’s jurisdiction, and should balance the rights of both privacy and free speech when making that decision.

“We hope that the CJEU will follow Szpunar’s opinion when it issues its judgment in this case later this year. The court must limit the scope of the ‘right to be forgotten’ in order to protect global freedom of expression and prevent Europe from setting a precedent for censorship that could be exploited by other countries.”