Imagine that you had been wrongly accused of a criminal offence; that you had been subjected to the stress and ignominy of a criminal trial; that despite being found not guilty and having no criminal record, a search against your name on the internet reveals a list of websites, articles and blogs linking you to your criminal case.
This is a reality for many law abiding citizens who have found themselves involved with the authorities and the courts. If the case has been reported on the internet at any point in time it is likely to appear following an internet search, frequently with no reference to the fact the case has been dropped or the individual had been acquitted. It can have devastating effects on the person’s reputation, job prospects and ability move on with their lives.
However, until recently, providing the post was not defamatory, there was little recourse for individuals in that situation. The landmark case of Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González (aka the Google Spain case) has changed that. The case has enshrined in law the so called “right to be forgotten” and compels Google, and other search providers, to remove certain links from their search engine.
In summary, the case found that if a search engine provides links to a website(s) which contain data about an individual or a business that is“inadequate or irrelevant, or no longer relevant”, then there is a right to request Google (or any other service provider) to remove the offending link. If the search provider refuses to remove the link, the individual or business can refer their case to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and if necessary the Courts.
Both Google and the ICO are currently considering the implications of the ruling and how practically they will deal with the deluge of requests that have already been made. An official response is expected from both in due course, but it seems highly unlikely that Google and other search engines are going to concede readily for links to be removed, without clear and unarguable reasons being advanced.
In order to stand out from the crowd it will be necessary to advance arguments with specific reference to the factual circumstances in a particular case as well as an application of the law.
Those who have been acquitted of criminal offences yet still face trial by Google should, it is submitted, be first in the queue to have inaccurate information “forgotten”.