Google said Thursday (19 May) it feared for free speech if France succeeded in forcing it to apply the right to have information about a person removed from its search engines not just in France, but worldwide.
Lodging an appeal against a €100,000 fine imposed by a French regulator, Google argued that French authorities should not have the right to decide beyond the country’s jurisdiction. France’s National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) imposed the fine on Google after the US internet giant only partially honoured requests by individuals to have information about them removed from its search engines.
Google accorded the right for its European extensions – google.fr and google.de for example – but not for google.com. CNIL said the firm should apply the delisting to all extensions, regardless of where the search is being performed.
“CNIL, as a French authority does not have under French law to impose measures outside of the nation’s borders,” Google’s legal director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Yoram Elkaim, told AFP.
“It is no longer a debate about the right to be forgotten, which by the way we are not questioning,” said Elkaim.
Google is refusing to bow to an order from the French privacy watchdog to scrub search results worldwide when users invoke their “right to be forgotten” online, it said on Thursday (30 July), exposing itself to possible fines.
The European Court of Justice has recognised the “right to be forgotten” since 2014, allowing individuals, under certain conditions, to have references to them removed from the internet.
Elkaim said that instead “it is really a wider debate about extraterritoriality, the availability of content globally.” He said Google has for years faced requests from countries to remove information globally that contravened local laws, such as a Turkish law prohibiting the denigration of the nation’s founder Ataturk or Thailand’s law banning criticism of the king.
“The laws apply on their territory, but they can’t dictate what French internet users can see,” said Elkaim.
“It is important to maintain this principle, and if we were forced to apply the CNIL’s decision globally, we would be in a much more difficult situation” when nations try to force it to remove content globally.
He added that Google’s system for its European search engines by which it filters out results that should not be available in a given country was 99.9% effective. Google does not expect the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, to take up its appeal before one year.
Google has a history of legal woes in Europe where concerns are high over its use of private data.
In France the US giant was fined €150,000 in 2014 for failing to comply with CNIL privacy guidelines for personal data.
Since a top European court ruled people have a right to be forgotten online, Google has received 348,085 requests for tidbits to vanish from search results.
The European Court of Justice ruled in May 2014 that Google could be forced to remove links to online content that breaches EU privacy laws.
The ECJ ruled that Google should, under certain circumstances, edit or remove its Internet search results, backing the EU's drive to introduce a "right to be forgotten" on the Internet.
European regulators are now working on guidelines for appeals from people whose requests to remove information has been turned down by search engines such as Google or Microsoft's Bing.
Google says it has received over 120,000 requests from across Europe to remove from its search results everything from serious criminal records, embarrassing photos and negative press stories.
The May ruling from Europe's top court sparked a lively debate between free speech advocates who say it will lead to a whitewashing of the past, and privacy campaigners who say it simply allows people to limit the visibility of some personal information.