Google battles EU over controversial ‘right to be forgotten’

This week, Google will head to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to argue against the CNIL, France’s data protection agency.

The issue stems from a ruling made all the way back in 2014, when the CJEU ruled that anyone with a connection to Europe could demand that search engines such as Google or Bing remove links from online results if they infringed on people’s privacy rights.

This judgement permitted European citizens to ask platforms to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or … excessive” content. The content remains online, but cannot be linked to the person if their name is searched on Google or another search engine. This right is now enshrined under GDPR.

Google v CNIL

The CNIL wants the ruling to be applicable anywhere in the world, claiming that people could be harmed if damaging data such as revenge porn was still accessible, even outside of the EU.

Gwendal Le Grand, director of technology and innovation at the CNIL, said: “Once it’s accepted that something should be taken down, it should apply globally.”

In essence, it would mean regulators globally would have to hide articles that met the criteria not only from European domains such as Google.ie, but Google.com and other international iterations of search engines. The search giant says such measures would set a precedent for free speech limitations by authoritarian governments.

Some pushback from journalists and rights groups

Some journalist groups and freedom-of-speech organisations agree and say that the EU should not be attempting to enforce its own rules on other territories. People also say that in the hands of a strict government, a rule like this could be abused to limit freedom of information for citizens.

Executive director of human rights group Article 19, Thomas Hughes, said that the CJEU must protect freedom of expression and “not set a global precedent for censorship”.

Since the 2014 ruling, Google has had close to 723,000 requests and has agreed to remove the links in 44pc of the cases.

In 2017, the Canadian Supreme Court told Google to block search results that were linked to a company alleged to be stealing trade secrets in the country. Google eventually agreed to comply with the ruling, but a US judge ruled that it was unenforceable in North America.

No judgement is likely until next year, but we may end up with more questions than answers as the general privacy debate continues to unfold.

Google logo on the front of its Montreal HQ. Image: BalkansCat/Shutterstock

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