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EU Court Rules Google Must Remove Search Listings Under "Right to Be Forgotten"

BY Rebecca Chao | Tuesday, May 13 2014

A European court ruled today that citizens have the "right to be forgotten" or that they can request that certain private information be removed from online searches. The ruling comes amidst an EU proposal to reform data protection laws that began in 2012.

The case against Google was first brought before the Spanish court before it made its way up to the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). A Spanish man had complained that a Google search of his name turned up a listing of an old news article showing the 1998 repossession of his home and that this old information was hurting his reputation.

Reuters reports that the judges at the ECJ stated that data could be removed so long as it was "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed."

That is just the beginning. The ECJ hopes to extend the ruling in the future to include the "right to be forgotten" on social networks as well.

Both Google and free speech advocates have criticized the ruling claiming that it would lead to censorship.

Index on Censorship told the BBC that deleting search engine listings was "akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books." The court made it clear, however, that only the search listing and not the original post would be deleted. In that vein, it would be more akin to marching into the library and removing the bar code off of a particular book. In this particular case, Google would only have to remove links to two pages of a particular website.

But Google also says that such a ruling would bring in a flood of complaints that would be expensive and tedious to field. Google's current removal policies include a short list of removable items (identification numbers like social security, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and signatures) but advise users to contact third party websites directly for the removal of other information.

The irony of this particular case is that while some news reports have omitted the Spanish man's name, many news agencies like the Guardian and BBC, have not, and BBC has gone a step further in reposting an image of the item the Spanish man wanted not to turn up search results. A Google search of his name now reveals that it is newly associated with this landmark case, which again, leads to the information that his home had been repossessed in 1998.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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