On 9 March 2017, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) considered that ‘the right to be forgotten’, as established by the ECJ in ‘Google Spain’ (ECLI:EU:C:2014:317), cannot easily be invoked with regard to companies registers.

In 2007, Mr. Manni, a contractor of a tourist complex in Italy, brought an action against the Lecce Chamber of Commerce. He argued that his properties were not being sold as a direct result of the fact that the companies register showed that he had been the administrator of another company that went bankrupted a few years earlier. The Court of Lecce ordered the Lecce Chamber of Commerce to anonymize the data linking Mr. Manni to the liquidation of the first company. The Court of Cassation in Italy referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling with respect to the question of whether the directive on the protection of personal data (Directive 95/46/EC and the directive on disclosure of company documents) precludes any person from accessing, without any time limit, data relating to natural persons set out in the companies register. 

The ECJ considered that the right to respect of private life and the right to protection of personal data is guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Right of the EU, and acknowledged the possibility that in specific situations, personal data relating to an individual should be limited in companies registries. It however held that the mere fact that Mr. Manni’s properties were not being sold cannot justify a limitation of access by third parties to that data, in particular given the legitimate interest of potential purchasers in availing such information from company registers. It pointed out that that information is essentially the only safeguard third parties have in relation to joint stock companies.

The ECJ considered that given the diversity of limitation periods provided for in various national laws, and the range of legal relations which may continue even after a company’s dissolution, it seems impossible to identify a certain period of time after which the entry of data in the register would no longer be required. It held that it can therefore not be guaranteed that after a certain period of time following the dissolution of a company, natural persons have the right to the erasure of the personal data concerning them.