On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that, in certain cases, Google must honor user requests to delete links to personal information that are irrelevant or not in the public’s interest.
The ruling came in a case involving a Spanish man that complained in 2010 that a Google search of his name led to a 1998 newspaper article that contained irrelevant information about a long resolved issue. The ECJ upheld the lower court ruling that the newspaper did not have the obligation to remove the information, but Google did as far as the links.
Thus, as The New York Times put it, people in Europe now have “the right to influence what the world could learn about them through online searches.”
This is a major decision that will apply across the European Union. Needless to say, Google called the ruling “disappointing” and stated it was “very surprised,” The New York Times reported.
On Thursday radio interview with BBC, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales called the decision “astonishing.”
“I think it’s a bad solution to a very real problem, which is that everything is now on our permanent records,” Jonathan Zittrain, an internet law professor at Harvard, told The New York Times.
Much like what we discussed in our post about removing Ripoff Report complaints from appearing in Google searches, any information scrubbed from Google searches would still exist in its original source online (e.g. newspaper archives, court documents) – it just might be difficult to find it.
According to Europe’s highest court, a search engine should value personal privacy over the public’s right to find information.
But this ruling leaves many unanswered questions including what precisely and how great a period of time will determine if personal data is relevant or not. What is certain is that it is not a guarantee that a requesting party will always have the information de-indexed from Google.
“The right to be forgotten, it’s really a balance. It doesn’t say you have the right to have your transgressions forgotten. It says if there is no public interests in those transgressions being exposed, then they shouldn’t be exposed,” London Metropolitan University law professor Douwe Korff told Mashable.
In the United States, such a ruling would conflict with the First Amendment. But, as the Mashable article states, the European Convention on Human Rights has an actual privacy article, whereas privacy rights are not explicitly outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Like with other major decisions, it will be interesting to see how this plays out, as it is too early to determine exactly the effects of such a ruling. While it is likely that we will not see a decision like this in the United States, it will be interesting to see how defamatory content may be treated in Europe when a user requests its removal.