Google has secured a landmark victory in Europe’s top court after lawmakers kicked out demands from the French data protection authority that it must impose “right to be forgotten” globally.
The ruling dates back to a case which started 2015, when the French regulator CNIL ordered Google to remove search result listings to pages containing damaging or false information about a person from its servers around the world.
But the tech giant refused, for which CNIL slapped it with a 100,000 (£88,376) fine.
In its appeal at the European Court of Justice, Google argued that if the right to be forgotten were to be applied outside Europe, it could be open to abuse by authoritarian governments trying to cover up of human rights contraventions.
The company was supported by Microsoft, Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the UK freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, among others.
The ECJ ruling stated: “Currently, there is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject… to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine.”
In response, Google said: “Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy. It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments.”
Since 2014, Google has received more than 845,000 requests to remove a total of 3.3 million web addresses, with about 45% of the links ultimately getting delisted.
However, as far back as 2011, the UK Government claimed the right to be forgotten was virtually unenforceable.
Then Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey said: “In principle, we support the idea that consumers should have more control over the processing of their data. And of course we support greater transparency. But we also need to be clear about the practicalities of any regulation. For example, how do we enforce the ‘right to be forgotten’ when data can be copied and transferred across the globe in an instant?
“No government can guarantee that photos shared with the world will be deleted by everyone when someone decides it’s time to forget that drunken night-out. We should not give people false expectations.”
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