EU ruling backs the ‘right to be forgotten’

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“Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

Europe’s highest court has ruled in favour of privacy advocates today, stating that people should be able to ask Google to ‘delete’ irrelevant or outdated information about themselves from search engine results. The judges came to their ruling because Google as a search engine ‘collects’ data and when indexing websites, Google ‘retrieves’, ‘records’ and ‘organises’ the data then ‘stores’ on its servers and ‘makes available’ to its users, which therefore makes it liable for the content.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ debate was sparked by Spanish national Mario Costeja González, who complained to the Spanish data agency, Agencia Española de Protección de Datos. When his name was search for in Google, the results would contain information about an auction for his repossessed home, which argued was a breach of his privacy. Similar cases have also been found in Spain.

“If, following a search made on the basis of a person’s name, the list of results displays a link to a web page which contains information on the person in question, that data subject may approach the operator directly and, where the operator does not grant his request, bring the matter before the competent authorities in order to obtain, under certain conditions, the removal of that link from the list of results,” said the judges from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Those against the ‘right to be forgotten’ have stated that removing such information is one step closer to internet censorship. Google, who are disappointed with the verdict, have mentioned that because they do not host the data, and just link to it, they cannot be held responsible for it. This ruling puts search engines in a tricky situation, whereby they must effectively censor their search results.

The judges have mentioned a public interest clause in the information somebody wants deleted and a “fair balance” between that interest and the data subject’s right to privacy needs to be arranged. Privacy and Freedom of Expression must be respected. The ability to hold those in power to account is paramount to a democratic society. Regardless, this ruling may be good news for the rest of us who may have an embarrassing office party photograph floating around the internet, but this law in practice is more complex and requires a lot of work.

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