Google and The Right To Be Forgotten

June 10, 2014 tags: Legal Articles, News

In 1998 Mr Gonzalez, a Spanish national living in Spain, had to sell his house in Catalonia to meet a judgement against him for bankruptcy/insolvency relating to social security overpayments.

In 2010 he “googled’ himself, and found that the 1998 report of this event in a local newspaper was one of the search results. Mr Gonzalez wished to put those matters behind him and although he had failed in his complaint against the newspaper (which could benefit from a journalistic exemption), he made a complaint to the European Court, arguing that continued publication by Google Search of those search results breached his rights to privacy and sought an order requiring Google to remove or block the search results.

[Google and The Right To Be Forgotten] The Court decided that the activities of search engines do involve the processing of personal data and that the operators of search engines are data controllers, and that search engines are responsible for ensuring that the search results that they publish are compatible with the rights of individuals under the Data Protection Directive. In this context, the court emphasised the way in which search results amount to “a structured overview of the information relating to an individual that can be found on the internet – information which potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of his private life… and thereby to establish a detailed profile of him” and the important role played by the internet in modern society.

In terms of the balance to be struck between the rights of individuals about whom personal data is held as against the right of the public to receive it, the court made the sweeping statement that in general the rights of data subjects override the interests of internet users in having access to information, except where in the specific circumstances of the case “such as the role played by the data subject in public life”, the public interest in internet users having access to the information in question outweighs the data subject’s rights. The effect of this new right was that individuals are entitled to demand internet search engines to remove information which the individual does not wish to have published, notwithstanding that the information remains available on the website of the original publisher (as in this case) and without having to show any prejudicial consequences from leaving it there.

Obviously, this has caused controversy, in that the balance between freedom of information and the right to be forgotten has been struck in favour of right to be forgotten. Nevertheless, this ruling is a vital tool in reputation management. Unless there is some strong public interest in keeping outdated information before the public then the search engines should not be taking a searcher to it.

Cotswold Barristers can take steps on your behalf to remove references that fall foul of this ruling. Please contact Chambers for more information.


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