The internet has a better memory than most, and if you’ve ever tried to erase anything online, you’ll soon find that it’s next to impossible. That’s why the ruling from the high court of the European Union will prove significant – it basically lays out the rights of users to have irrelevant, damaging data removed from search engines.
The 2010 case originated from Mario Costeja González, who filed a complaint against Google for references and links to outdated newspaper stories from 1998 when González had his home repossessed.
Spanish Data Protection Commissioner (AEDP) had ruled that the irrelevant pages needed to be removed, but Google fought back, claiming that forced removal so is akin censorship, which violates the company’s rights. Further, Google has previously argued that as a processing engine, it cannot be held responsible for collecting data it does not control.
After lengthy legal battles, a directive from the landmark ruling from European Union Court of Justice states:
The Court further holds that the operator of the search engine is the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing, within the meaning of the directive, given that it is the operator which determines the purposes and means of the processing. The Court observes in this regard that, inasmuch as the activity of a search engine is additional to that of publishers of websites and is liable to affect significantly the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data, the operator of
the search engine must ensure, within the framework of its responsibilities, powers and capabilities, that its activity complies with the directive’s requirements. This is the only way that the guarantees laid down by the directive will be able to have full effect and that effective and complete protection of data subjects (in particular of their privacy) may actually be achieved…
So far as concerns, next, the extent of the responsibility of the operator of the search engine, the Court holds that the operator is, in certain circumstances, obliged to remove links to web pages that are published by third parties and contain information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name. The Court makes it clear that such an obligation may also exist in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.