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EU Court to Determine if People Googling Themselves Have the Right to Censor Search Results

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, February 27 2013

Google Spain.

If an Internet user sees that their reputation is getting tarnished online, should they have the right to request that the data be removed from search results?  That’s the premise of a case from Spain that the European Court of Justice will be deliberating over the next several months, after the country’s highest court ruled that Google was responsible for the spread of the harmful information. 

The case arose after a Spanish man found search results under his name that stated property he owned was up for auction after nonpayment of social security.  The Spanish Audiencia Nacional upheld his complaint in early 2012.  As Reuters reported, Google challenged the case last year and appealed to the EU court yesterday, citing the questionable precedent that the Spanish ruling establishes.  If search engines are given responsibility for withholding content, they could effectively become “controllers” policing the Internet. 

This is a responsibility that Google doesn’t want to have.  In a blog post on Tuesday, William Echikson, Google’s Head of Free Expression for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, stated the company’s case against blocking search results in these cases:

There are clear societal reasons why this kind of information should be publicly available. People shouldn't be prevented from learning that a politician was convicted of taking a bribe, or that a doctor was convicted of malpractice.

Google’s quiet compliance with some aspects of government censorship in China raises a paradox about the precedent for this case, though in the EU, the company maintains that it will uphold freedom of expression over individual privacy.  The appeal comes as the EU considers legislation that will give citizens greater control over online privacy, including the data companies are collecting on them.  The court will announce their ruling in June, and will also determine whether Google, which is based in California, is subject to EU law. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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