European court rules Google must remove links in privacy case

Court of Justice of the European Union | The New York Times | BBC | WAN-IFRA

Europeans have a right to have some data about themselves removed from search engines, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled Tuesday. If results display pages that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed,” the search engine operator must remove them, the court ruled, even if the “publication in itself on those pages is lawful.”

The ruling comes in a case brought by Mario Costeja González, a Spaniard, who asked Google to remove “an announcement for a real-estate auction organised following attachment proceedings for the recovery of social security debts owed by Mr Costeja González” published by the newspaper La Vanguardia in the late ’90s.

Last year the court’s advocate general recommended Google should not be forced to remove the results. Europe proposed privacy regulations in 2012 that include a “right to be forgotten” unless the information is “necessary for historical, statistical and scientific research purposes” or reasons of public health or freedom of expression. The judgment “is strong tailwind” for those proposed regulations, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding wrote on Facebook. “Big data need big rights.”

A Google spokesperson told The New York Times’ James Kanter it “was ‘very surprised’ that the judgment ‘differs so dramatically’” from last year’s recommendation. “We now need to take time to analyse the implications,” a company spokesperson told the BBC.

The ruling allows that a “fair balance” must be sought in such cases that may depend on public interest, “an interest which may vary, in particular, according to the role played by the data subject in public life.”

Tuesday’s ruling is not the only example of European countries grappling with the pathways to digital information. Spanish newspaper publishers are backing legislation that would force aggregators to pay “even for the reproduction of headlines and snippets of text,” Paul McClean wrote Friday.

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