Google in France’s firing line as right to be forgotten hearing arrives at ECJ

It may be your right to be forgotten, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be found.

That is the big issue on the cards on Tuesday (11 September) as France’s data regulator locks horns with Google in a hearing on the global application of the EU’s right to be forgotten ruling.

The Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) will take centre stage at the EU’s highest court in a bid to extend the reach of ‘right to be forgotten’ provisions.

The rulings were first established in 2014, after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that Europeans should be entitled to ask search engines to delist links from results pages should they contain information found to be “inaccurate, inadequate or excessive.”

Importantly, content remains online and accessible to the public, but links to the material are removed from the search engine responsible for processing the request.

However, current rules only permit content to be delisted from nationally registered domains. That is to say, if a request is made for the removal of content from google.co.uk, then it won’t be removed from a search executed from google.fr, for example.

Together with the fact that a user could quite easily bypass any content restrictions with the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN), rerouting their IP address so as to appear in a different country, the CNIL sees the right to be forgotten provisions as less than adequate.

EU’s 'Right to Be Forgotten' policy sets bad precedent for free expression

Last week’s announcement that Google will begin suppressing links to URLs not only for searches on EU country-level domains, but also for searches conducted from within EU countries, is bad news, write Jens-Henrik Jeppesen and Emma Llansó.

The French data regulator is now calling for the right to be forgotten to be applicable globally, meaning that European regulators would have a hand in deciding the content that the rest of the world is able to see.

Opposition to the proposals has centred around the fact that some fear it could hinder the right to free speech.

Article 19, a coalition of international human rights organisations aptly named after the free speech clause in the UN’s universal declaration of human rights have called the plans “disproportionate.”

Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19, said:

“This case could see the right to be forgotten threatening global free speech. European data regulators should not be allowed to decide what Internet users around the world find when they use a search engine.

“The CJEU must limit the scope of the right to be forgotten in order to protect the right of Internet users around the world to access information online.”

EU preparing guidelines for 'right to be forgotten' complaints

European regulators are working on guidelines for appeals from people whose requests to remove information from search results under their name have been turned down by search engines such as Google.

According to The Guardian, Google is meanwhile understood to share Article 19’s concerns that the broader dispensation of the ruling could allow authoritarian regimes to limit free speech at will.

“If European regulators can tell Google to remove all references to a website, then it will be only a matter of time before countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia start to do the same,” Hughes added.

“The CJEU should protect freedom of expression not set a global precedent for censorship.”

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