In a ruling that came as a shocker to Google and other Internet companies, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that a person has the right to require Internet companies to remove excessive personal information from search engine results pages.
The ruling came in response to the complaint of a Spanish man, who expressed his objections to the fact that Internet searches on his name showed links to a 1998 newspaper article, which was about the repossession of his home.
Free speech activists and privacy advocates have long argued that people should have the rights to remove digital traces of past and irrelevant information from the Internet. However, to put such a ruling into exercise would not be easy for Google or other search engines as they do not own the websites where such information is published.
The Luxembourg-based court said that Google can be required to remove inadequate, irrelevant, obsolete or excessive data from its search results in light of current circumstances and passage of time. The ECJ refused to accept Google’s arguments in support of general public interest in such information and said that the right to privacy of an EU citizen had greater weight in the instant matter than general public interest.
Reacting to the ruling, Google spokesperson Al 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. We now need to take time to analyze the implications.”
Last year, the ECJ’s court adviser had said that deleting sensitive information from search results might interfere with freedom of speech.
Way back in 2012, the European Commission had proposed a “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, which was later modified by the European Parliament to be confined to a right to erase specific information.
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