May 142014


Censorship of history or respecting everyone’s right not to have private data remain in the public domain? A Court of Justice of the European Union May 13, 2014 decision is already proving controversial.

Proponents of the right to be forgotten are pleased. Supporters of the right to information are not. One corporate lawyer network on LinkedIn responded with a curt “Data protection 1, freedom of speech 0.”

The decision is on a case pitting Google Spain against the Spanish Data Protection Agency. The Court ruled that search engines are responsible for the personal data they show from third party web sites.

This means that if someone objects to being shown in search engine results, that person can ask the search engine operator to remove any links to a web page containing personal data and not show them in any search query results.

French secretary for the digital economy Axelle Lemaire was quick to express support for the ruling. “Internet users, be they individuals or companies, must have confidence that the rules which apply to everyone are effective,” she said. “This ruling is a major step forward in the fight to protect Europeans’ right to privacy.”

A Court of Justice press release on the ruling explains that the court found “that by searching automatically, constantly and systematically for information published on the Internet, the operator of a search engine ‘collects’ data within the meaning of the directive.”  The directive in question is 95/46/EC designed to ensure individuals are protected with regards to the processing of personal data and the free movement of this data.

The ruling does allow for nuance however, with the Court recognising that in some cases, removal of search engine results may impact Internet users who might have legitimate interests in accessing the information in question. It therefore recommends that a “fair balance should be sought between that interest and the data subject’s fundamental rights.”