The right to be forgotton. Data and the search engines

A European court backed the “right to be forgotten” today. It ordered that Google must delete “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” data when asked.

The case was brought by our Spanish cousins and a man with big cojones Mario Costeja González. Mr Gonzalez failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia.

As the Guardian reported “González argued that the matter, in which his house had been auctioned to recover his social security debts, had been resolved and should no longer be linked to him whenever his name was searched on Google”.

The European court found that Google had to erase links to two pages on La Vanguardia’s website from the results that are produced when González’s name is put into the search engine.

The judges ordered their removal as Gonzalez wanted them removed “on the grounds that he wishes the information appearing on those pages relating to him personally to be ‘forgotten’ after a certain time” was incompatible with the existing data protection law.

They said the data that had to be erased could “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed”. They added that even accurate data that had been lawfully published initially could “in the course of time become incompatible with the directive”.

Its going to open the floodgates to genuine complaints, as well as the fruit cakes and time wasters but its an important decision and one in which Google must now be seen as a Data Controller.

Google said: “This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general. We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the advocate general’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out. We now need to take time to analyse the implications.”

The UK government is against the Right to be Forgotten policy. The information commissioner has called the “right to be forgotten” proposals “a regime that no one will pay for”. In addition government justice minister Simon Hughes said in March that “it is clearly better that we take time to get this right rather than rush into something that proves unworkable and costly”.


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