Right to be forgotten should be limited to EU, top court says in Google case

A person walks past Google's offices in New York, New York, USA, 17 December 2018. [EPA-EFE/JUSTIN]

The EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling should be limited to the EU, the European Court of Justice said on Thursday (10 December), delivering an opinion on a case brought by France’s privacy authority, the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL).

The Advocate General responsible for the opinion, Maciej Szpunar, said in a statement that he was “not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation that they would have effects beyond the borders of the 28 Member States.”

He added that requests to be ‘forgotten’ from outside the EU should “not be affected by the de-referencing of the search results” globally.

France’s CNIL had originally brought the case against Google, stating that when a request is made for the removal of links to web pages, the removal must apply to all of the search engine’s domain name extensions.

In practice, this would mean that when a right to be forgotten request is made and actioned, Google would have been responsible for removing links to the web pages in question across all of its domains.

Google’s response 

After the opinion was issued, Google highlighted the importance of the freedom of information worldwide.

“Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other organisations that have made their views known in this case,” Peter Fleischer, Senior Privacy Counsel at Google said.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99% effectiveness.”

Along this axis, Advocate General Szpunar also said that the ‘geo-blocking’ technique was vital for ensuring that right to be forgotten requests are carried out as necessary, allowing for links to be removed on the basis of a user’s IP address rather than the domain name used to conduct the search.

‘Right to be forgotten’

EU law allows for individuals to request that a search engine take down particular links in search results. Known as the ‘right to be forgotten,’ this legislation obliges companies such as Google to deindex these links so that they can’t be accessed via the use of a particular search engine.

The case was brought after the CNIL imposed a €100,000 penalty on Google for failing to take down links in reference to right to be forgotten requests globally. The fine was made in March 2016, and Google sought to have the penalty annulled.

After the French Council of State referred the case to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling, Szpunar’s non-binding opinion will go a long way in ensuring that the fine could be voided.

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