The European Court of Justice ruled that the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rule cannot be enforced outside of Europe, a key victory for Google.
“There is no obligation under EU law, for a search engine operator who grants a request for de-referencing made by a data subject, as the case may be, following an injunction from a supervisory or judicial authority of a Member State, to carry out such a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine,” the ruling notes. “EU law … also does not prohibit such a practice.”
As you may recall, the “right to be forgotten” drama dates back to 2010, when a Spanish citizen complained that the publication of details of his home prepossession in Google search results violated his privacy rights. The Spanish courts eventually referred the case to the European Court of Justice, which ruled in May 2014 that the EU’s Data Protection Directive applied to this case and that Google and other search engine providers that operated in EU member states would need to remove privacy-invasive search results when requested.
Essentially, EU citizens have the right to be forgotten when the information published about them is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive. But the Court also ruled that right to be forgotten was not absolute, and that it needed to be balanced against other rights, including the freedoms of expression and the media.
Google has since removed many millions of URLs from search results based on privacy requests. But left unanswered was whether this right extended beyond the boundaries of the EU. Google and many outside the EU argued it did not; many privacy advocates argued that they did and should. (My position is that this rule is fundamental to privacy and should be applied worldwide, not that it matters.)
But now we have a ruling: The EU “right to be forgotten” does not apply outside the EU.
“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” a Google statement reads. “It’s good to see that the Court agreed with our arguments.”