Google wins EU case to limit the right to be forgotten

24 Sep 2019

Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Google has won a case against a French regulator that wanted the search engine to delist links about EU citizens across all its sites globally.

Europe’s top court has told Google it does not have to make the right to be forgotten available worldwide.

The measure already allows citizens in EU countries to demand any results about them considered “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” to be removed if the search is carried out in an EU country. Even though these web pages would still exist, delisting from a search engine makes them harder for people to find.

What is the right to be forgotten?

The right to be forgotten came into force in 2014, after Spanish national Mario Costeja González sought to remove out-of-date links relating to unsettled debts that had since been settled.

Represented in Articles 17 and 19 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the right to be forgotten gives individuals the right to have their data erased by data controllers under specific grounds. For example, in cases where the personal data collected or processed is no longer necessary, or where consent is withdrawn.

When this right is exercised, the data controller is obliged to erase the data without undue delay. However, there are situations in which the right to be forgotten does not apply, such as where data processing is necessary for freedom of information, compliance with a legal obligation or reasons of public interest.

‘Not an absolute right’

France’s data regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), had been probing the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to clarify whether the ability to delist links should go beyond, the French site of Google, extending to other versions across the world.

In its ruling, the CJEU recognised that countries outside the EU “have a different approach” and that the balance between the right to privacy and the protection of personal data against freedom of information of internet users “is likely to vary significantly around the world”.

It continued: “The court adds that the right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, but must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.”

Earlier this year, advocate general Maciej Szpunar issued his non-binding opinion to the European Court of Justice on the case, proposing that the court should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out to the EU.

Szpunar said that the principle should be “balanced” against other rights, such as data protection and privacy, as well as the “legitimate public interest”.

– PA Media, with additional reporting from Elaine Burke

Google on an iPad. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos