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EU court enshrines "right to be forgotten" in case against Google

The Court of Justice of the European Union upheld the complaint of Spanish citizen Mario Costeja against Google on 13 May. Picture taken 25 June 2013
The Court of Justice of the European Union upheld the complaint of Spanish citizen Mario Costeja against Google on 13 May. Picture taken 25 June 2013

REUTERS/Vincent West

Freedom of information has been violated by the ruling that the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued on 13 May 2014 in the case that a Spanish citizen, Mario Costeja, brought against Google.

The CJEU has ruled that search engines must delete links from their results if requested by individuals on the grounds that it violates their privacy, and that this obligation is valid even if the information has not been deleted from the linked site and does not contravene any law.

"This decision makes it possible for anyone to have information they don't like withdrawn from the search engine results of searches about themselves," said Grégoire Pouget, the head of the Reporters Without Borders New Media desk.

"From now on anyone will be able to demand that the results show only the information that suits them, even when they were legitimately and legally quoted in a press report. They will be able to craft a digital image that does not conform to published reports. Will this right be extended from people to entities, taking us into a world where all information is manipulated?"

Individuals will henceforth be able to use European Union Directive 95/46 on the protection of personal data to ask search engines to delete results about themselves, not because the linked content is illegal but simply because they regard it as prejudicial to their interests. And if search engines fail to comply, individuals will be able to ask relevant national authorities to enforce their request.

The case dates back to March 2012, when Costeja filed a complaint with the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) against Google and the newspaper La Vanguardia after discovering that a Google search for his name produced results referring to the auction of real estate property seized from him for non-payment of social security contributions. He did not dispute the veracity of the linked information but regarded it as old and no longer relevant.

The AEPD rejected Costeja's complaint against the newspaper on the grounds that the information on its site had been published legally and was protected by the right to information. But it upheld his complaint against Google on privacy grounds, ordering the search engine to eliminate about 100 links from all future searches for Costeja's name.

When Google appealed, Spain's National Court asked the CJUE for an interpretation of the European law on online data protection. In response, CJUE advocate-general Niilo Jääskinen issued a preliminary finding on 25 June 2013, in which he said that the European directive on data protection does not establish a “right to be forgotten” and that such a right cannot be used in an attempt to get search engines to suppress information.

Completely contradicting this initial finding, the CJEU ruled yesterday [13 May] that search engines are responsible for the personal data displayed in their results in searches for an individual's name, even when the data is stored on other websites.

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