Google wins case over EU’s ‘right to be for­got­ten’ rules

The Morning Call - - LOCAL / NATION - By Raf Casert

BRUS­SELS — Hand­ing Google a ma­jor vic­tory, the Euro­pean Union’s high­est court ruled Tues­day that the EU’s “right to be for­got­ten” rules that al­low peo­ple to con­trol what comes up when their name is searched on­line do not ap­ply out­side the 28-na­tion bloc.

Over the past five years, peo­ple in Europe have had the right to ask Google and other search en­gines to delete links to out­dated or em­bar­rass­ing in­for­ma­tion about them­selves, even if it is true. More re­cently, France’s pri­vacy reg­u­la­tor wanted the rule ap­plied to all of Google’s search en­gines, even those out­side Europe.

But the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice de­clared there is “no obli­ga­tion un­der EU law for a search en­gine op­er­a­tor” to abide by the rule be­yond the EU.

It said, how­ever, that a search en­gine op­er­a­tor must put mea­sures in place to dis­cour­age in­ter­net users from go­ing out­side the EU to find the deleted in­for­ma­tion.

The de­ci­sion high­lighted the grow­ing ten­sion be­tween pri­vacy and the pub­lic’s right to know and un­der­scored the dif­fi­cul­ties in en­forc­ing dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions’ rules when it comes to the bor­der­less in­ter­net.

It also il­lus­trated the way the in­ter­net is reg­u­lated more heav­ily in Europe than in the U.S., where au­thor­i­ties are con­strained by the First Amend­ment guar­an­tee of free speech and free­dom of the press. The U.S. has no laws equiv­a­lent to Europe’s “right to be for­got­ten” mea­sure.

Peter Fleis­cher, Google’s se­nior pri­vacy coun­sel, wel­comed the rul­ing and added that the U.S. in­ter­net search giant has worked hard “to strike a sen­si­ble bal­ance be­tween peo­ple’s rights of ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and pri­vacy.”

Those who wanted to see the rule ex­tended be­yond the EU ar­gued that on the in­ter­net it is easy to switch be­tween na­tional ver­sions of Google’s web­site — from google.fr to google.com, for ex­am­ple — to find miss­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Since Google started han­dling “right to be for­got­ten” re­quests in 2014, it has deleted about 1.3 mil­lion web links from its search re­sults, or 45% of all re­quests pro­cessed, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s trans­parency re­port.

Take­down re­quests filed by Euro­peans are re­viewed by Google staff mem­bers, based mainly in Ire­land, who look into whether the web­page con­tains sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion such as race, re­li­gion or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion; re­lates to chil­dren or crimes com­mit­ted as a mi­nor; or is about old con­vic­tions, ac­quit­tals or false ac­cu­sa­tions.

Last year, Google re­moved a 1984 German news ar­ti­cle about an in­di­vid­ual’s con­vic­tion for hi­jack­ing an East German air­plane to flee to West Ger­many, be­cause it was “very old” and re­lated to now-re­pealed laws against il­le­gal em­i­gra­tion.

Pages about a for­mer politi­cian in­volved in a drug scan­dal were deleted be­cause they dis­closed his home ad­dress, and links about con­vic­tions for rapes, sex­ual abuse and aid­ing and abet­ting ter­ror­ism were re­moved be­cause the of­fend­ers had served their sen­tences.

Google does not re­move such ma­te­rial from all web searches, just when a per­son’s name is typed in. The ma­te­rial will still show up when other search terms are used.

Google says it may re­ject a delist­ing re­quest if the page con­tains in­for­ma­tion that is “strongly in the pub­lic in­ter­est.” That can in­clude ma­te­rial on pub­lic fig­ures that re­lates to the per­son’s crim­i­nal record.

It can also say no if the con­tent con­sists of gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments or is “jour­nal­is­tic in na­ture.”

SEAN GALLUP/GETTY

The EU’s de­ci­sion Tues­day un­der­scored the dif­fi­cul­ties in polic­ing dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions’ rules on the in­ter­net.

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