Only EU citizens can exercise the right to have outdated or irrelevant information about them on google, a preliminary view by the European Courts Of Justice has said today.
The “right to be forgotten”, allowing claimants to request the removal of links to irrelevant or outdated online information about them will not applicable to the whole world, if the advisory opinion given gets the stamp of approval.
The idea that search engines will prevent access to material on the internet only to EU citizens is the first in a list of more privileges to apply to EU nationals at the expense of Brits, who are slowly being made acquainted to the cold side of being outside the European Union. The court’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, said. Final judgements by the ECJ usually endorse initial opinions.
The case related to a dispute between Google and France’s National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL), with a number of UK and international free speech organisations saying that extending the power could encourage censorship in countries such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The advocate general said the right to be forgotten must be balanced against other “fundamental rights”, such as the right to data protection, privacy and the legitimate public interest in accessing information.
Szpunar said if worldwide “de-referencing” was allowed, EU authorities would not be able to determine a right to receive information or balance it against other fundamental rights to data protection. The advocate general found for Google, declaring “the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine”. It only had to “ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU”.
The UK-based free speech organisation Article 19 led an intervention by eight non-governmental organisations, which warned of the potential harm to internet users’ rights to access information if Google lost the case.The ECJ established the “right to be forgotten” in a landmark 2014 ruling relating to a Spanish citizen’s claim against material about him found on Google searches. It allows European citizens to ask search engines to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” content.
Google has been inundated with millions of requests since then to remove material from online searches. ECJ rulings are binding in the UK.
Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, said: “We welcome Advocate General Szpunar’s opinion that the CJEU should place limits on the scope of de-referencing carried out by search engines.
“European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see. They should only be able to de-list websites within their country’s jurisdiction, and should balance the rights of both privacy and free speech when making that decision.
“We hope that the CJEU will follow Szpunar’s opinion when it issues its judgment in this case later this year. The court must limit the scope of the ‘right to be forgotten’ in order to protect global freedom of expression and prevent Europe from setting a precedent for censorship that could be exploited by other countries.”
Richard Cumbley, a solicitor at the London law firm Linklaters, said: “This is a really important case pitting fundamental rights to privacy against freedom of expression. The case highlights the continuing conflict between national laws and the internet, which does not respect national boundaries.
“The opinion contains a clear recommendation that the right to remove search results from Google should not have global effect. There are a number of good reasons for this, including the risk other states would also try and suppress search results on a global basis. This would seriously affect people’s right to access information.
“The court of justice is not required to follow this opinion, but it seems very likely they will in this case.”