Right To Be Forgotten Can Be Enforced Against Google In Europe Says European Court of Justice (ECJ)

Right To Be Forgotten Can Be Enforced Against Google In Europe Says European Court of Justice (ECJ)In a landmark judgement, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has held that Google must ensure Right to Be Forgotten to its users. This is in continuation of European Union’s earlier efforts to strengthen privacy rights and data protection amid global e-surveillance practices.

Conflict of laws has made complicated the legal environment applicable to cyberspace. This holds good for India as well where technology companies like Google, Facebook, etc are violating Indian laws openly. Indian government has failed to take any effective step in this regard and we at Perry4Law hope that the new Government would formulate effective techno legal framework for Indian cyberspace.

In fact Google’s online defamation case has already reached to the level of Indian Supreme Court. However, Indian Courts are very lenient when it comes to foreign technology companies operating in India. On the other hand, the ECJ has been taking a stand that is in conformity with civil liberties protection in cyberspace. ECJ has held that Internet companies like Google can be forced to remove irrelevant or excessive personal information from search engine results.

Google suffered a previous privacy setback earlier this year when a German court ordered it to block search results in Germany linked to photos of a sex party involving former Formula One motor racing boss Max Mosley.

The case highlighted the struggle in cyberspace between free speech advocates and supporters of privacy rights who say people should have the “right to be forgotten” – meaning that they should be able to remove their digital traces from the Internet. It creates technical challenges as well as potential extra costs for companies like Google and Facebook.

Google can be required to remove data that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed,” said judges at the Luxembourg-based court. The ECJ said the rights of people whose privacy has been infringed outweighed the general public interest.

Google said it was disappointed with the ruling, which contradicted a non-binding opinion from the ECJ’s court adviser last year that said deleting sensitive information from search results would interfere with freedom of expression. “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,” said Google spokesman Al Verney.

The European Commission proposed in 2012 that people should have the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet. This was watered down by the European Parliament last year in favor of a “right to erasure” of specific information. The proposal needs the blessing of the 28 European Union Governments before it can become law. Google, Facebook and other Internet companies have lobbied against such plans, worried about the extra costs.

The developments of privacy and data protection at the EU are systematic and consistent in nature over a long period of time. Some significant developments in this regard are draft European Parliament Legislative Resolution for General Data Protection Regulation 2009-2014 (PDF), European Parliament’s support for Commission’s efforts to foster EU Citizens’ Rights Memo 14-185 (PDF), MEPs anti surveillance stand against U.S. NSA (PDF), etc. The latest to add to this civil liberties protection list is supporting vote of European Parliament for EU data protection reforms (Word) that have now become irreversible in nature.  The new Data Protection Regulation was approved with 621 votes for, 10 against and 22 abstentions.

The issues of privacy and data protection in Europe have become all the more sensitive since a former U.S. intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked details last year of U.S. surveillance programmes for monitoring vast quantities of emails and phone records worldwide.

Unfortunately, countries like United States, India, United Kingdom, etc are working towards curbing civil liberties in cyberspace on the one hand and increasing unconstitutional e-surveillance powers on the other hand. On the other hand, EU has been working in the direction of making consumers’ data and information safe and secure.

In the United States, California recently passed a state “eraser” law which will require tech companies to remove material posted by a minor, if the user requests it. The new rule is scheduled to take effect in 2015 and will likely face a court challenge.