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.

The working group aims to bring some clarity to implementing a landmark court decision in May that gave Europeans the right for the first time to ask search engines to erase information about them from the web.

>> Read: EU court ruling opens door for ‘right to be forgotten’ on the Internet

The guidelines, which are expected to be finalised by the end of November, will set out categories to organise the types of appeals coming in from citizens and help authorities weigh the public’s right to know the information with the individual’s right to privacy.

“They [data protection authorities] are thinking about criteria, about coordination,” said Peter Hustinx, head of the European Data Protection Supervisor, who takes part in the Article 29 Working Party (WP29) meetings.

“There is determination to make sure there is a coordinated approach.”

Regulators came up with a draft of the criteria at a two day meeting in Brussels this week, and are expected to make a public statement on the results on Thursday (18 September).

The guidelines will help regulators determine whether the information should remain accessible under the individual’s name by asking them to weigh factors such as the public role of the person, whether the information relates to a crime and how old it is.

“We want the toolbox to guide difficult decisions on how to balance the individual’s right to privacy in the Internet age against the public interest,” said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who heads France’s privacy watchdog and the WP29, earlier this month.

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.

The Internet giant, which handles over 80% of requests in Europe, has previously come under fire for its handling of “right to be forgotten” requests. Its restriction of the removal of Internet links to European sites only, for example, has been questioned by several authorities.

“So far we’ve had the impression that some of the decisions Google has made have not been coherent,” Pierrotin said.

About 90 appeals contesting search engines’ decisions have been filed with privacy regulators in Britain, 70 in Spain, 20 in France and 13 in Ireland.

The European Court of Justice ruled on 13 May 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.

>> Read: EU court ruling opens door for ‘right to be forgotten’ on the Internet

The ruling followed a complaint in Spain by a man whose house was auctioned off 16 years ago to pay for unpaid taxes.

La Vanguardia, a Spanish daily newspaper, covered the case in two stories it wrote at the time, in 1998. But instead of asking the newspaper to withdraw it, the Spanish regulator focused on Google and Google Spain.

The “right to be forgotten” enables people to request web companies to delete personal information from their servers, and is part of a 2012 European Commission proposal to revise EU privacy law. It was adopted by the European Parliament and is now with the European Council to be scrutinised by member states. 

Subscribe to our newsletters