EU court adviser says Google can limit the ‘right to be forgotten’

10 Jan 2019

European Court of Justice. Image: peterfuchs/Depositphotos

A top EU legal adviser sided with Google in an ongoing case concerning the EU ‘right to be forgotten’.

Google and other search engines should not be made to enforce the EU ‘right to be forgotten’ beyond the remit of the bloc, according to a top adviser at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

What exactly is the right to be forgotten?

In simple terms, the right to be forgotten would allow EU residents to demand search engines remove links containing personal data from searches under their own names. The right, established in 2014, would also see search engines required to balance compliance with link removal and the public right to information. Google has removed many links since 2014, but only within the EU.

French privacy regulator CNIL ordered Google to expand its removals to any search regardless of location in 2015, which Google appealed in a French court. The matter then moved to the ECJ.

Legal adviser says balance needed

Advocate general for the ECJ, Maciej Szpunar, today (10 January) said that if the EU ordered the scrubbing of content from websites in non-member state countries, there would be a risk that other territories would end up blocking information from EU internet users. He said that “the court should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out”.

He added: “The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought.”

According to Reuters, judges at the ECJ generally follow the advice of the advocate general, although there is no strict obligation to do so. Usually, the judges make a decision within two to four months of an advocate general issuing a non-binding opinion.

Szpunar noted that while a delicate balance must be struck in this instance, once the right to be forgotten is established in the EU, a search engine provider must do all it can to remove entries, including using geoblocking if the IP address of a device connected to the internet is shown to be within the EU.

Google had also argued that the territorial expansion of the right to be forgotten would encourage dictators to try and control content published beyond their own countries.

European Court of Justice. Image: peterfuchs/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects