skip to main content

The Right To Be Forgotten

“The Right to Be Forgotten.”
That is what Europe’s top court said last week when determining that Europeans had a right to have irrelevant information deleted from Google. 
The European Court of Justice was ruling on a case in which a Spanish lawyer wanted Google to delete a link to a 1998 legal notice about his home’s repossession and auction, which had been published in a Spanish newspaper.  The lawyer argued that these legal issues had been resolved, so any reference to them was now irrelevant.  The Court determined that, under European privacy laws, individuals have a right to request that search engines delete irrelevant information. 
To be clear, this only applies to the search engine result, not the underlying link with the irrelevant information.  So the Spanish lawyer can get Google to delete the link, but he cannot get the newspaper to delete the legal notice.
The Court offered no guidance on how Google should determine what is irrelevant.  The regulatory bodies in European countries are grappling with enforcement measures.  Google, for its part, has said that it would comply with the ruling.  As USA Today has noted, the company has already received several requests to delete irrelevant information, including:

•         A company that wants links about it in a forum discussing consumer rip-offs to be removed.
•         A physician who wants links to a review site about him to be removed.
For right now, this ruling doesn't directly affect Americans.  The ruling only applies to European citizens and to Google’s European search engine. 
Also, because of our prominent freedom of speech laws, it is unlikely that an American court would ever come to the same conclusion and enforce the same requirement.
With that being said, Google, like other search engines, will remove certain types of information, including personally identifiable information, if you make a request.
For example, over the weekend it was reported that a local educational institution recently found out about a breach of its students’ personally identifiable information when students’ names and Social Security numbers were discovered on Google.  The breach originated from the educational institution's insurance broker.  News articles stated that the insurance broker was able to work with Google to remove the students’ information from their web servers.
Google and other search engines have policies in place to deal with these types of situations.
If you have other questions about the European court’s decision or about getting search engines to remove information about you, please contact John Persinger or any other member of our Emerging Technologies Practice Group.