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Google wins landmark case in EU court over 'right to be forgotten'

The court ruled the right to be forgotten did not extend outside of Europe.

Image: Shutterstock/achinthamb

GOOGLE IS NOT required to apply the ‘right to be forgotten’ regulation to its search engine domains outside Europe, the EU’s top court has ruled. 

The European Court of Justice (EUCJ) ruled in favour of Google, which claimed it did not need to remove links to personal data under ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation globally, meaning the law will only apply to the tech giant’s operation in Europe. 

The ruling stems from a dispute between Google and France’s privacy watchdog CNIL in 2015 when the tech giant was told it must de-list information from search results globally upon request, citing a “right to be forgotten”. 

Today, the EUCJ said that the right to be forgotten only applies to its European domains. 

The court ruled that, while a search engine operator such as Google must carry out “de-referencing” of links as demanded by a regulator or court in an EU state to all European versions of its sites, that “right to be forgotten” did not need to go further.

“There is no obligation under EU law” for search engine operators such as Google “to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the court said.

The CNIL case was seen as pitting an individual’s rights to privacy online against freedom of information and was perceived as posing a risk of escalating tensions between Europe and the US where much of the search engines are based. 

Google welcomed the decision by the court this morning. 

“It’s good to see that the court agreed with our arguments,” its lawyer, Peter Fleischer, said in a statement, adding that Google has worked “to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy”. 

The US company and other stakeholders had warned that authoritarian countries outside Europe could abuse global de-referencing requests to cover up rights violations.

Google’s position was bolstered in January by a non-binding opinion from the EU court’s top legal advisor, advocate general Maciej Szpunar, that recommended the judges “should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out, to the EU”.

The case had been closely watched, especially as Europe has also already emerged as a global rule-setter in terms of data protection on the internet. 

The 2016 GPDR legislation covers all EU citizens and residents hand has forced sites and companies around the globe to comply with its measures.

CNIL had fined Google €100,000 for non-compliance. Google appealed to France’s highest court, which in turn referred to the European Court of Justice, ending up with today’s ruling.

© AFP 2019  

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