Europe’s high court upholds ‘right to be forgotten’ on the Web

BY Ellen Rolfes  May 13, 2014 at 5:49 PM EST
Photo by Flickr user Rob Boudon

Photo by Flickr user Rob Boudon

The European Union’s highest court has ruled against Google, upholding the “right to be forgotten” for Europeans on the Internet.

Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision means Google and other search engines must now remove links to personal data on Web pages published by third parties, if requested by an individual. And if they do not grant the request, individuals may now bring the matter before authorities in order to obtain the removal of links from the list of results.

The plaintiff, Mario Costeja González, was very happy over the outcome.

Like anyone would be when you tell them they’re right, I’m happy,” Costeja told the Guardian.

He had originally filed suit against Google Spain and Google Inc. to remove links to two pages of a Spanish newspaper web page, detailing announcements for a real-estate auction of Costeja’s home in order to recover social security debts that Costeja owed.

Costeja and his lawyers argued that since the issue had been resolved, the old information on the Web pages, originally published in 1998, was no longer relevant.

“I was fighting for the elimination of data that adversely affects people’s honor, dignity and exposes their private lives. Everything that undermines human beings, that’s not freedom of expression.”

The decision by the court contradicts European Union’s advocate general’s opinion issued last year, which stated that search engines had no obligation to fulfill these requests.

Google spokesman Al Verney told the Wall Street Journal that the ruling comes as a surprise for Google.

This is a disappointing ruling for search engines and online publishers in general,” Verney said. “We are very surprised that it differs so dramatically from the Advocate General’s opinion and the warnings and consequences that he spelled out.”

As the highest court in Europe, Google cannot appeal the court’s decision. The national courts in EU member states must now decide how to implement the EU court’s decision.