In what is being called a landmark decision, Europe’s highest court ordered internet giant Google to delete the personal records of European Union citizens. The ruling comes as privacy experts argue that Google must comply with the “right to be forgotten” if an individual requests that his or her sensitive or private information, such as legal records or personal effects, are accessible through the search engine.
Google had challenged the obligation since it was first brought up some years ago, but the court in Luxembourg on Tuesday dealt a blow to the companies operations.
Google’s European Union clientele consist of over 550 million people, and will now have to operate along standards that are parallel to the European Union’s privacy standards. While Google may not have to change its operations in places like the United States where freedom of speech rights typically trump privacy rights as long as the information is accurate, the company will now have to take in and process complaints and requests from across the 28 countries in the European Union.
The court went as far as saying even links to “unflattering” material of private citizens can be up for debate, even if it is true and posted with or without consent. The legal question of individual privacy rights began when a lawyer in Spain took to court a claim that online newspaper accounts of his debt and tax troubles in the early 1990s were damaging his current business even after he had remedied the situation.
The concept of “right to be forgotten” is a relatively new idea and courts are now looking how to apply such rules and regulations to other online companies like Facebook or Twitter. The demand that Google delete the personal records of individual citizens is a victory for privacy advocates who say just as justice should be blind, so should an individuals internet history.
The court’s legal term, “erasure”, is meant to protect an individual’s reputation and personal concerns. The court did make some exceptions to the new regulation, saying “unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public.”
This would mean pressing information deemed vital to public knowledge- lets say a politicians voting record, or an organization’s troubling human rights record- would not be up for privacy protection under “erasure”.
Europe has historically towed the line between privacy and freedom of speech rights, often valuing the former over the latter in the interest of protecting individuals. Even with such a sweeping ruling on Google’s content, lawmakers say the original publishers of the content are not mandated to take down the information, since they are not as easily searchable or wide known as Google or other large searcg engines.
Critics of the ruling say this is a slippery slope to “large-scale private censorship” in the European Union. Either way, the internet has long been a bastion for the free exchange of information between countries, individuals, businesses and organizations. Attempts to regulate the world wide web are often met with resistance, as is the decision to mandate Google delete the personal records of European Union citizens. Nevertheless, privacy advocates call the ruling a strong step forward in protecting the individual from a harmful internet history, whether they be based in fact or fiction.
By John Amaruso