It has been less than three years since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that people have the right to have incorrect information about them removed from online search engine results. However, this so-called “right to be forgotten” is not absolute, as confirmed by the CJEU’s most recent ruling last week.
This case concerned an Italian director, Mr. Salvatore Manni, who sought to have his personal details removed from company records in an official public register. He believed that his properties had failed to sell because the companies register showed that he had been an administrator of another company that went bankrupt.
The CJEU held that Mr. Manni could not demand the deletion of his personal data from the official register because the public nature of company registers is intended to ensure legal certainty and to protect the interests of third parties. It was held that this inference with an individual’s fundamental rights to a private life and to protect personal data was not disproportionate in the circumstances. This was because company registers only disclose a limited amount of personal data and company executives should be required to disclose data relating to their identity and functions within a company. The CJEU concluded by saying that in specific and exceptional situations, overriding and legitimate reasons may justify limiting the rights of third parties to access such data, and left it up to national courts to determine whether “legitimate and overriding reasons” exist on a case-by-case basis.
This decision echoes the ruling in the 2014 Google Spain Case; the right to be forgotten must be balanced against individuals’ fundamental rights, such as the right of freedom of expression and the public’s right to know information about persons holding key positions within a company. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which codifies the right to be forgotten also confirms this position. The right to be forgotten allows individuals to request the deletion of personal data in specific circumstances. However, the GDPR contains certain exemptions where companies can refuse to deal with a deletion request, such as where the processing is necessary to exercise the right of freedom of expression, and for archiving purposes in the public interest.
Companies who receive requests by individuals asking that their personal data be deleted will need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not such data should be erased. Organizations will be required to perform a balancing act against any competing rights when considering such erasure requests.