Google wins landmark ‘right to be forgotten’ case in blow for privacy advocates

A Thai staff member works at Asia's first Google Learning Center at True Digital Park in Bangkok, Thailand, 18 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/RUNGROJ YONGRIT]

Google has fended off a landmark legal challenge from the French data protection authority after the EU’s top court ruled that the search engine giant does not have to apply ‘right to be forgotten’ rules globally.

The ruling comes after a protracted standoff between Google and the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), which dates back to 2015, when the French data protection watchdog ordered Google to remove sensitive data about an individual  – across all of its domains worldwide.

Subsequent to the 2015 challenge, Google sought to mitigate concerns by introducing a geoblocking feature that would hide de-referenced links from European users – not, however, censoring results for those based outside of Europe.

The disagreement between the CNIL and Google then led to a €100,000 fine from the French data protection watchdog.

On Tuesday, both sides came to a head and the EU’s highest court ruled that under the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation, Google is not “required to carry out a de-referencing on all versions of its search engine.”

However,  the judgement adds that “EU law requires a search engine operator to carry out such a de-referencing on the versions of its search engine corresponding to all the member states.”

The ruling follows an opinion submitted by the court’s highest advisor, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar in January, in which he said that he was “not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation” and that the court “should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out, to the EU.”

In a related case on Tuesday, the Court of Justice of the EU also ruled that based on Article 8 of the bloc’s 1996 Data Protection Directive, Google is prohibited from the “processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade-union membership, and the processing of data concerning health or sex life.”

Following the rulings, the European branch of the Computer and Communication Industry Association (CCIA) said that the decision “honours EU residents’ “right to be forgotten” without compromising the constitutional rights of citizens outside of the EU.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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